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Suffragettes - Why did they choose to join?

(14 Posts)
EstoyAqui Sun 16-Feb-14 10:33:32

If you were a woman in 1910 living in similar circumstances to now, what would have prompted you to join the cause?

I am currently writing an Open University piece about the suffragettes during the times of Fawcett and Pankhurst. I am keen to understand the reasons why many "normal" (I hate that term, but for want of a better word) women joined the organisations.

For me it would have been access to equal education and job prospects. I would not want my DD to be limited in her career choices. I think that is really what prompted me to become more active in FWR of late. I have always supported the cause but not been as vocal about it as I have since having my DD.

TheWanderingUterus Sun 16-Feb-14 10:43:00

Spinsters/widowed women who found it difficult to make themselves heard/ to live without a man in the society at the time.

University educated


Bright women who felt trapped or limited by domesticity, especially middle class women who had less time and more societal pressure than the uber rich.

Socialists who were fighting for male suffrage as well

Someone who had just attended a lecture or meeting which had opened their eyes a little, or had suffered unduly under the present system for whatever individual reasons.

Those who saw the more militant suffragists as a legitimate way of stepping outside of their gender boundaries and life. Seeing women chained up, locked up, marching together would have attracted some disaffected women and some troublemakers too.

(I'm studying something which has some crossover with this subject)

grimbletart Sun 16-Feb-14 12:46:37

Yes about equal opps. But to me it would have been the illogicality and lack of rational thinking behind the idea that half the population, simply by virtue of its reproductive organs, is inferior and therefore debarred from a full role in society and subject to the rule of the other half of the population simply because they have a different set of reproductive organs.

It would have been comical in its daftness if the effects had not been so serious.

My grandmother was a suffragette (I'm an old enough poster to be that close to that generation!) and she used to say to me when I was little girl that it was not only the injustice and unfairness of the system but the sheer stupidity of it that drove her.

EstoyAqui Sun 16-Feb-14 15:41:58

Very interesting thoughts. I am looking at it from a point of privilege being that it would be hard to support a movement which alienated you from your social group and family. For many it would have been an obvious choice but for others it would have been quite divisive.

I am always reminded of that scene in Mary Poppins where the mother is off at various suffragist events and the father is working at the bank. I think that in reality she would have struggled to do such a thing as by association her husband's career could have been jeopardised.

I think the 'sheer stupidity' comment resonates Grimbletart

What subject are you studying TheWanderingUterus?

scallopsrgreat Sun 16-Feb-14 15:42:58

The gaslighting. Although obviously it was called that then! The deliberate attempts to make women out as being less intelligent and less able than men.

TheWanderingUterus Sun 16-Feb-14 16:33:37

Re:Mary poppins. The mother was a suffragette not a suffragist. I suspect she could have got away with being a suffragist as it was a bit more 'respectable' and well-behaved.

I think the two different groups would have attracted women for very different reasons. I think its important to look at the cultural expectations and social mores of the time, when women really were thought to be lesser, more delicate beings. Ideas about it being dangerous and unhealthy to educate women etc were still prevalent, in part as a backlash against the growing fear of the badly behaved woman. It was very unusual to exist without some sort of male support. Respectability was a big thing etc. not sure if that makes sense, I have been wrestling with a stupid book all afternoon and my brain feels like mush.

I am doing a phd on women's health and bodies in the first part of the twentieth century ( can't be more specific).

FairPhyllis Sun 16-Feb-14 17:08:35

I wonder to what extent it was a primarily urban movement. In this period my great grandmothers would have been living in rural areas. I have never heard any family stories about any involvement of theirs with suffragism.

I think if I had been around then and joined the movement it would have been through the sheer anger and frustration of being unable to control my own destiny. But I would have been a suffragist rather than a suffragette, I think.

However: I doubt any of my male ancestors would have been able to vote before the 1918 Act because they were all dirt poor. So in terms of what my pre-WWI socio-economic group would have been, I would probably have viewed the lack of the vote primarily as a class issue, because I wouldn't have known anyone who could vote. So I don't know that by supporting full women's suffrage post-1918 I would have been joining "a movement which alienated you from your social group," because men in my social group would only themselves have got the vote very recently. It might have been the case that because voting was a new thing for them too, that they might have resisted women's suffrage less than men with more entrenched economic privilege. Or they might have resisted it more because they saw their own vote as reward for fighting in WWI. I don't know.

I think you are going to find huge differences between the attitudes to women's suffrage among women of different classes. And differences in practical ability to participate in the movement.

EstoyAqui Sun 16-Feb-14 17:26:06

That sounds a very interesting subject to study. TheWanderingUterus My mistake at the use of suffragist rather than suffragette. blush

FairPhyllis I am writing about the woman's movement in 1910 and I am hoping to portray two female characters, one who supports Fawcett and one who supports the more radical WSPU, and the discrepancies as to why they made the choices they made and how they both see feminist cause. It's really made me think about my own feminism and how it has changed over time and why.

Scallops I'd forgotten that the term gas lighting originated then. Thanks for the reminder.

Madamfrog Mon 17-Feb-14 09:57:25

The term 'gaslighting' didn't originate then, it is from the 1938 play Gas Light, set in the Edwardian period. Excellent thriller.

FairPhyllis Mon 17-Feb-14 12:57:52

Ah I didn't see that you were looking at 1910. I think I'd almost certainly have viewed it as a class issue in that period then.

I think I would have been turned off by the violence of the WSPU, and as a working class woman I would have had a lot more to lose by being imprisoned/arrested through association with them than middle-class women like the Pankhursts. Plus I would have had to work most of the time and wouldn't have had a lot of time to do unpaid work for the movement.

I think that's generally true of the WSPU in its later years, isn't it - that it was perceived as a middle-class organization? They did have some working class members from the early years, like Annie Kenney, but most of the hierarchy was middle to upper class women and after they moved to London most of the growth in the membership was amongst middle-class women. Didn't they split with the Labour Party because Labour wanted universal suffrage, but the WSPU wasn't interested in votes for working-class women - they only wanted parity with men?

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Grennie Tue 18-Feb-14 10:55:03

Most women don't campaign against modern feminist issues I see as shocking. For example, the sex industry.

I suspect socialism or left wing ideas in the family will have had a big influence in more working class women seeing the issues. Generally if you have your eyes opened about some injustices, you are more likely to see others.

rosy71 Fri 21-Feb-14 23:04:19

Didn't they split with the Labour Party because Labour wanted universal suffrage, but the WSPU wasn't interested in votes for working-class women - they only wanted parity with men?

I think they thought that the Labour Party were after votes for all men first, then votes for women. Christabel Pankhurst wanted votes for women on the same terms as men straight away.

I'm not really sure that anyone here could imagine what they might have thought in 1910. Surely you need some real first hand evidence from the time?

itshardthinkingofanickname Sat 22-Feb-14 08:40:42

It might be interesting looking at it from the other angle - why didn't women want to join? What factors made them not want to fight for their right to vote - in any way?

I was watching Made in Dagenham - based on a true story but dramatised - and it was interesting to see how people reacted to women taking the initiative.

How did society react - if their wife said they wanted to get involved, how did friends, families etc react?

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