Intellectual inferiority & other excuses…

Millicent FawcettIt is interesting to read reports of early attempts to promote the case for women’s suffrage.  In this extract from the Bury Free Press, July 1871, Millicent Garrett Fawcett argues against multiple reasons given by men (and anti-suffrage women) against emancipation. She counters all arguments rationally and eloquently, but forty years later the government of the day still refused to grant votes to women.

“Mrs Fawcett, who, on presenting herself, was loudly cheered, then proceeded with her lecture, which was a resume and refutation of the argument used by the opponents of women’s rights to the franchise in the House of Commons on the second reading of the Woman Suffrage Bill. 

These arguments she enumerated as follows:  That women were represented already, that to give them votes would be to give two votes to their nearest male relation, or to their favourite clergyman; that it would occasion domestic broils; that it would destroy family government, which was necessarily despotic; that women were intellectually inferior to, and physically weaker than men, and therefore ought not to have the franchise; that home was woman’s sphere, that women were superior to men, and would be deteriorated by contract with the ruder life of men; that the line must be drawn somewhere for if women got votes they would demand to be admitted to Parliament; that women did not want votes; that women were by nature conservative; that women could not be soldiers; that the deference and courtesy now shown to women would be lost; that women suffrage would be destructive of the foundation of society, and obliterate the distinctions of sex; that the Bible said nothing about it; that reason must prevail; that authority was against it. 

To each of these objections Mrs Fawcett replied seriatim, and concluded by contending that the suffrage was not only woman’s right, but that woman, man and society would be improved by her possessing it.  She was much cheered, and received the thanks of the meeting, as did Sir R Murchison for giving the use of the theatre.

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Vote for Murder – Suffragette Protest

WSPU fob“One of the women in the group, notably taller than her peers, clapped her hands, “quickly now girls,” she said. “We do not want Millicent to get wind of this.”

They hurried down a wide road into a warren of alleyways and presently found themselves at a street corner. The tall woman beckoned them to stop and they stood quietly in the shadow of the wall.

“The police station is over there,” she whispered. “As soon as you have let loose run as quickly as you can in different directions, like you did before. Are you ready?”

“Ready for what?” asked Louisa, but her voice was drowned by a sea of noise as the women ran towards the red-brick station, hurling a volley of stones into the windows of the building. They cracked like gunshots in the dusky night.”

Extract from Vote for Murder

Suffragist or suffragette?

Deed not words

Vote for Murder combines a true Victorian murder with a 1911 story of suffragism and census evasion.  Both events were inspired by ancestors within my family tree.  But what is the difference between a suffragist & a suffragette?

Women’s suffrage was the struggle for the right to vote and stand for electoral office.  Throughout the nineteenth century, women had no place in politics but in the 1800’s, women began to campaign for the right to vote.  These women were known as suffragists.  My ancestor, Herbert Cowell, married Alice Garrett in 1863 against her fathers’ wishes.  Alice’s older sister, Elizabeth Garrett (later Garrett Anderson), became the first female doctor to qualify in England and Alice’s younger sister, Millicent Garrett, later Millicent Fawcett , was a prominent suffragist.

Many local suffrage societies were formed following the inception of the Sheffield Female Political Association in 1851 and in 1897 these individual units were bought together under the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies headed by Millicent Fawcett.   The NUWSS was mostly composed of middle class, educated women and they took a long-term, peaceful approach to gaining the vote.

In 1903 a suffragist, Emmeline Pankhurst, became impatient with this method and left the NUWSS to set up her own society, the Women’s Social and Political Union.  She employed more militant tactics and the Daily Mail coined the name ‘suffragettes’ as a term of derision.  Suffragettes were prepared to break the law to gain the vote, chaining themselves to railings, damaging property and disrupting public meetings.   They endured imprisonment and force feeding as a result of their activities.

When World War I started in 1914, all suffrage activity ceased.  And in 1918, women over the age of 30, who met minimum property requirements, were given the right to vote.   It was only in 1928 that women achieved full electoral equality with men when voting rights given to all women over 21.