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Suffragettes were nothing less than female freedom fighters

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics on Friday, 20 December 2013

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This edited article about Women’s suffrage first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 499 published on 7 August 1971.

Suffragettes, picture, image, illustration

Suffragettes montage

The women of Britain were seething with fury. Waving banners and shouting angry slogans, they smashed shop windows, slashed at paintings in art galleries, started fires in pillar boxes and even turned empty buildings into flaming wrecks.

Politicians were shouted down at meetings, and the women even chained themselves to railings outside important buildings to get publicity for their cause.

Never before had Britain’s women been so impassioned or rebellious. And never since have they banded together so determinedly to battle for their rights.

Even imprisonment did not dampen their ardour, for there they refused to eat and had to be released before they starved to death.

But the most shining example of the courage shown by these women came in 1913. Then one of them, Emily Davidson, flung herself in front of a horse as it ran in the Derby, and died under its flying hooves.

The cause which brought forth this sacrifice was a powerful one.

What was it? Why were the women in Britain behaving in this way?

The clue could have been obtained from the slogan on the sunshades of a group of women parading peacefully in Hyde Park, London. This declared, “No vote, no tax,” and it meant that the women would not pay taxes if they were not allowed to vote.

All the women wanted was the right to vote, to choose (on equal footing with men) the politicians who ran their country. So far, they had been denied this, although they had been put to work in factories and mines or left to slave in their homes to bring up families on their husband’s small wages.

It was in the 19th century that the women began to agitate for the right to vote. New Zealand’s women had been made voters in 1893, and the Australians followed in 1901.

In Britain, women were still thought unfit to help choose their government. The movement to change this took a firm hold in 1903, when Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst started the Women’s Social and Political Union.

The women who joined this were called suffragettes. This name comes from the Mediaeval Latin word suffragium, which means “voting.”

At first, they used only peaceful methods to press their claims. But when these failed to get results, they took to more active means. They heckled political meetings to draw attention to their plea.

After one meeting, Mrs. Pankhurst’s daughter, Christabel, was imprisoned. Many more were arrested and put behind bars as the campaign stepped up.

Soon, the cry “Votes for women” spread over the country, but the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 brought an end to the struggle.

During the war, the women showed such patriotism by doing the work of the men who were away fighting, that when the war was over, the government had a change of heart.

Some women were given the vote in 1918. Ten years later, a Bill was passed giving all of them the vote from the age of 21. The slogan, “Votes for women,” had at last become a reality. The hard fought battle had been won!

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