A celebration of our local suffrage campaigners and their contribution to WWI
by Alison Bailey
Millicent Garrett Fawcett, who became the first woman to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square, in recognition of her lifetime’s work to secure women the right to vote, formed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1897. By 1914, nationally there were more than five hundred NUWSS branches with between 50,000 and 100,000 members and an annual expenditure exceeding £45,000.
The NUWSS brought together the many separate suffragist societies such as the Church League for Women’s Suffrage, the Actresses’ Franchise League, the Artists’ Suffrage League, and even the Barmaids’ Political Defence League. All had the same aim: to achieve the right to vote for women through constitutional, peaceful means, and most would have called themselves suffragists as opposed to suffragettes.
‘Suffragette’ was the nickname given to the militant suffrage campaigners, usually followers of the Pankhursts, by Charles Hand, the correspondent of the Daily Mail. He intended the term to be mocking but many of the more militant suffrage campaigners adopted the term for themselves to generate publicity and differentiate themselves from their politer, campaigning sisters.
In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst, with her daughters Christabel, Sylvia and Adela, had founded the Women’s Social and Political Union, the WSPU, in Manchester. This new group was formed out of frustration at the many years of unsuccessful suffrage campaigning. Despite bills in favour of women’s suffrage being presented for debate on an almost annual basis from 1867 onwards, women were still no nearer to getting the vote. Only one branch of the militant WSPU was ever founded in Bucks, by Emily Brandon in Chesham.
Nevertheless, several moderate branches of the NUWSS were established throughout the county, including Beaconsfield, Berkhamsted and Gerrards Cross. They united under the banner of the Oxon, Berks, Bucks and Beds Federation which was founded in 1910.
The Mid Bucks Suffrage Society
One of the most active moderate suffragists groups in our area was The Mid Bucks Women’s Suffrage Society. The members of the group were comfortably off, well-educated, well-travelled and creative.
Click on these links for individual member stories:
Cartwright, Colin, Burning to Get the Vote, the women’s suffrage movement in central Buckinghamshire, 1904-1914
Crawford, Elizabeth, Art and Suffrage A biographical dictionary of suffrage artists
Crawford, Elizabeth, The Women’s Suffrage Movement, Reference Guide 1866 -1928
Robinson, Jane, Hearts and Minds, the untold story of the Great Pilgrimage and how women won the vote