The Suffragettes wanted the right for women to vote.
The move for women to have the vote had really started in 1897 when Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage. “Suffrage” means the right to vote and that is what women wanted – hence its inclusion in Fawcett’s title.
Millicent Fawcett believed in peaceful protest. She felt that any violence or trouble would persuade men that women could not be trusted to have the right to vote. Her game plan was patience and logical arguments. Fawcett argued that women could hold responsible posts in society such as sitting on school boards – but could not be trusted to vote; she argued that if parliament made laws and if women had to obey those laws, then women should be part of the process of making those laws; she argued that as women had to pay taxes as men, they should have the same rights as men and one of her most powerful arguments was that wealthy mistresses of large manors and estates employed gardeners, workmen and labourers who could vote……..but the women could not regardless of their wealth…..
However, Fawcett’s progress was very slow. She converted some of the members of the Labour Representation Committee (soon to be the Labour Party) but most men in Parliament believed that women simply would not understand how Parliament worked and therefore should not take part in the electoral process. This left many women angry and in 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. They wanted women to have the right to vote and they were not prepared to wait. The Union became better known as the Suffragettes. Members of the Suffragettes were prepared to use violence to get what they wanted.
In fact, the Suffragettes started off relatively peacefully. It was only in 1905 that the organisation created a stir when Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney interrupted a political meeting in Manchester to ask two Liberal politicians (Winston Churchill and Sir Edward Grey) if they believed women should have the right to vote. Neither man replied. As a result, the two women got out a banner which had on it “Votes for Women” and shouted at the two politicians to answer their questions. Such actions were all but unheard of then when public speakers were usually heard in silence and listened to courteously even if you did not agree with them. Pankhurst and Kenney were thrown out of the meeting and arrested for causing an obstruction and a technical assault on a police officer.
Both women refused to pay a fine preferring to go to prison to highlight the injustice of the system as it was then. Emmeline Pankhurst later wrote in her autobiography that:
“this was the beginning of a campaign the like of which was never known in England, or for that matter in any other country…..we interrupted a great many meetings……and we were violently thrown out and insulted. Often we were painfully bruised and hurt.”
The Suffragettes refused to bow to violence. They burned down churches as the Church of England was against what they wanted; they vandalised Oxford Street, apparently breaking all the windows in this famous street; they chained themselves to Buckingham Palace as the Royal Family were seen to be against women having the right to vote; they hired out boats, sailed up the Thames and shouted abuse through loud hailers at Parliament as it sat; others refused to pay their tax. Politicians were attacked as they went to work. Their homes were fire bombed. Golf courses were vandalised. The first decade of Britain in the C20th was proving to be violent in the extreme.
Suffragettes were quite happy to go to prison. Here they refused to eat and went on a hunger strike. The government was very concerned that they might die in prison thus giving the movement martyrs. Prison governors were ordered to force feed Suffragettes but this caused a public outcry as forced feeding was traditionally used to feed lunatics as opposed to what were mostly educated women.
The government of Asquith responded with the Cat and Mouse Act. When a Suffragette was sent to prison, it was assumed that she would go on hunger strike as this caused the authorities maximum discomfort. The Cat and Mouse Act allowed the Suffragettes to go on a hunger strike and let them get weaker and weaker. Force feeding was not used. When the Suffragettes were very weak……….they were released from prison. If they died out of prison, this was of no embarrassment to the government. However, they did not die but those who were released were so weak that they could take no part in violent Suffragette struggles. When those who had been arrested and released had regained their strength, they were re-arrested for the most trivial of reason and the whole process started again. This, from the government’s point of view, was a very simple but effective weapon against the Suffragettes.
As a result, the Suffragettes became more extreme. The most famous act associated with the Suffragettes was at the June 1913 Derby when Emily Wilding Davison threw herself under the King’s horse, Anmer, as it rounded Tattenham Corner. She was killed and the Suffragettes had their first martyr. However, her actions probably did more harm than good to the cause as she was a highly educated woman. Many men asked the simple question – if this is what an educated woman does, what might a lesser educated woman do? How can they possibly be given the right to vote?
It is possible that the Suffragettes would have become more violent. They had, after all, in February 1913 blown up part of David Lloyd George’s house – he was probably Britain’s most famous politician at this time and he was thought to be a supporter of the right for women to have the vote!
However, Britain and Europe was plunged into World War One in August 1914. In a display of patriotism, Emmeline Pankhurst instructed the Suffragettes to stop their campaign of violence and support in every way the government and its war effort. The work done by women in the First World War was to be vital for Britain’s war effort. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed by Parliament.
Spy pictures of suffragettes revealed
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News Online
Photos uncovered by the National Archives show how the police spied on the suffragettes. These covert images – perhaps the UK’s first spy pictures – have gone on display to mark the centenary of the votes-for-women movement.
Ninety years ago, a Scotland Yard detective submitted an unusual equipment request.
It was passed up the chain, scrutinised, reviewed and finally rubber-stamped in Whitehall itself. Scotland Yard duly became the proud owner of a Ross Telecentric camera lens. And at a cost to the taxpayer of £7, 6s and 11d, secret police photographic surveillance (in the shape of an 11-inch long lens) was born.
Within weeks, the police were using it against what the government then regarded as the biggest threat to the British Empire: the suffragettes.
Documents uncovered at the National Archives reveal that the votes-for-women movement probably became the first “terrorist” organisation subjected to secret surveillance photography in the UK, if not the world.
The covert photographs are at the heart of an exhibition marking the centenary of the founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union, which invented modern direct action and ultimately changed the face of the UK.
The suffragettes, founded in October 1903, forced a social revolution to give women the vote. Photographs uncovered by the National Archives reveal hidden secrets of how the state spied on what it regarded as a terrorist threat. This first picture shows a suffragette caught in a confrontation with opponents and the police.
The state’s use of cameras in fighting crime began when prisons were instructed to photograph all inmates in 1871.
But police found the technology’s real value as they tried to combat the increasingly militant suffragettes.
Within two years of the founding of the WSPU, Christabel Pankhurst had become the first woman to be jailed for direct action. That civil disobedience continued within prison walls as jailed women refused to be photographed.
So Scotland Yard brought in the UK’s first long-lens paparazzi-style photographer, says Carole Tulloch, curator of the exhibition.
In 1912, Scotland Yard detectives bought their first camera to covertly photograph the suffragettes. The pictures were compiled into ID sheets for officers on the ground.
This first sheet shows 1. Margaret Scott, 2. Olive Hockin, 3. Margaret McFarlane, 6. Rachel Peace, alias Jane Short, 7. Mary Gertrude Ansell 8. Maud Brindley.
The ID list was also circulated to potential targets. This list was supplied to the Wallace Collection art gallery in London after curators feared they would come under attack.
Pictured are 11. Mary Richardson 12. Lillian Lenton, alias May Dennis 13. Kitty Marion, 15. Miss Johansen 16. Clara Giveen 17. Jennis Baines.
The police photographers showed no preference in whom was placed under surveillance. If they were considered a threat, they were photographed, followed and watched.
But the suffragettes had sophisticated tactics. Nellie Taylor (picture 4) used the alias Mary Wyan while Annie Bell (picture 5) had two alter egos – Hannah Booth and Elizabeth Bell.
That first photographer, Mr A Barrett, sat quietly in a van, snapping away as the women walked around Holloway Prison’s yards, according to the documents.
On the outside, detectives compiled photographic lists of key suspects, the aim being to stop arson attacks, window-smashings or the dramatic scenes of women chaining themselves to Parliament’s railings.
“The police got quite good. They would even send people along to meetings to take pictures and notes of what was being said,” says Ms Tulloch.
“They eventually put an officer in plain clothes and on a motorbike to try and keep up. He was able to make some notes but failed to keep up with the suffragettes because he had not been given a bike with an automatic starter motor.”
At Manchester Prison, the authorities used the technique to snap infamous window-smashers Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester.
When the results were disappointing, the records suggest another attempt was made to coerce the women into posing.
Evelyn Manesta resisted and eventually a guard was used to restrain her around the neck. But when the photograph was reproduced in the official rogue’s gallery, it had been doctored – replacing the arm with a fashionable lady’s scarf.
In prison, the civil disobedience continued. When Evelyn Manesta, one of the Manchester suffragettes refused to pose for a picture, a guard was brought in to restrain her in front of the camera.
But when the photograph of Evelyn Manesta appeared, the arm had been removed. The photographer had acted on official instructions to doctor the photograph so that it would be less controversial.
Back in London, the nation’s greatest art collections were nervous after suffragettes slashed the National Gallery’s Rokeby Venus in March 1914.
We still have her suffragette plaque and brooch and I remember as a child how my mother and grandmother would bring them out and explain to me their significance
The private Wallace Collection gallery appealed to Scotland Yard for help, and detectives supplied their list of London’s most wanted – almost all of the pictures secretly taken.
One of the women on the list, Kitty Marion, went on to become one of the most celebrated of the suffragettes as she endured more than 200 force-feedings in prison while on hunger strike.
“On the one hand, the state considered them dangerous terrorists, but on the other it simply did not know what to do with them,” says Ms Tulloch.”
The police and prison officials were so worried about what to do they made sure that every step they took was authorised by the Home Office. In the records you can find daily communications between the governor of Holloway Prison and Whitehall. In that era it was extremely rare for government to communicate so quickly.”
But the police surveillance did nothing to stop the movement – nor did it dim the growing support they were finding in the country. While the photographs presented the women as dangerous subversives, press photographs uncovered by the National Archives also exposed what some newspapers- particularly the Daily Mirror – regarded as police and mob brutality.
“I think we take for granted what they fought for,” says Ms Tulloch. “One of the images we found shows a lone woman on a cart, surrounded by 1,000 men.
“Today, she would be on a podium, surrounded by supporters in an organised event. No doubt many of those men would be telling her what to do – go home and feed the kids. The courage these women showed was remarkable.”