Why, despite the suffragette activity, had women not gained the vote by the outbreak of the First World War

The first reason why the women had not gained the vote by WW1 was simply because Parliament didn’t allow it. In the years before 1900, 15 bills for women’s suffrage had been put forward to Parliament by a group of women known as the suffragists. Each time, the bill failed. The lack of success annoyed many suffragists and by 1903, Ms Emmeline Pankhurst created another organisation of women known as the suffragettes.

One of the biggest reasons was people’s views on equality of the sexes. The public, MPs and even the other women felt that men were superior to women. Men of that era believed that women were irrational, second class and unsuitable. Source E, part of a speech made by a Member of Parliament in 1913 stated that if women did gain the vote, it meant that most voters would be women. This was most probably typical of Parliament’s views and as the government reflects public opinion, we can see why many men would be against giving the vote. At that time, men dominated politics and were afraid to lose all control, authority, power and grip over women as shown in source E. Permitting the vote would undermine traditional control and the traditional political system.

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In 1908, Herbert Asquith took over as leader of the Liberal government. Unfortunately for the suffragettes, Asquith was against women’s franchise and tried to deny them the vote by stalling. Although his real policy was to ‘wait and see’, he said that he was not prepared to introduce changes unless he felt that the majority of women actually wanted it. This was a massive set back for the franchise as the previous Prime minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman had been in favour of votes for women.

A major reason why the women did not gain the right to vote was because the issue was regarded as minor compared to others taking place at that time; the Labour party was encouraging the Liberals to make changes to the Trade Union Law, the Parliament Act of 1911 and the Irish Nationalists wanted a Home Rule Bill for Ireland. The government said the problem with the Irish Nationalists took priority and they brushed aside the women’s suffrage bills. This was exaggerated when the Liberals had to concern themselves with problems in the Balkans and the war.

As a result of losing the bills, the suffragettes became even more aggressive, losing even more support. MP’s who supported the suffragettes were put off and felt they should not give the vote because of their radical ways. Their violent tactics were regarded as attention and publicity seeking. Pankhurst explained that they were driven to these tactics because peaceful methods had failed. The suffragettes lost support due to their irrational behaviour. Some of these violent tactics were throwing stones at 10 Downing Street, the smashing of major department stores, Hunger Strike and the slashing of the Rokeby Venus painting. Such brutality alienated many people.

Source D is a passage from a book written by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1912. She writes “Now the newspapers are full of us”, by this time, people were fed up of reading about the Suffragettes in the newspapers. Pankhurst is regarded un-lady like when she says “we will fight for our cause”. This was another reason why the women did not receive the vote. She continues to write “In 1906 there was a very large section of the public who were in favour of women’s suffrage”, this may have been a large and biased exaggeration hence they did not succeed.

The women responsible for destroying public and private property were often caught and once in prison they went on hunger-strike. Determined to avoid these women becoming martyrs, the government introduced the Prisoner’s Temporary Discharge of Ill Health Act. Suffragettes were now allowed to go on hunger strike but as soon as they became ill they were released. Once the women had recovered, the police re-arrested them and returned them to prison where they completed their sentences. This successful means of dealing with hunger strikes became known as the Cat and Mouse Act.

Another reason was that all MPs were worried about giving women the vote; they were concerned about which party the women would vote for. The Liberals were the most worried as the majority of the population able to vote would be women. Males were 47.3% of the population and Females, the other 52.7%. Now that two campaigns were running for women’s votes, these percentages became a cause for concern. Disagreements existed on how to extend the vote for women. If they were given the vote on the same terms as men, only the wealthier women would receive suffrage. Both the labour and the liberal parties believed that this would aid the Conservative parties. They were not prepared to risk this.

Not all women wanted the franchise. Even the Queen did not agree with women’s vote. She said, “With the vote, women would become heartless and disgusting human beings”. With the Queen and many other women against women’s suffrage it held back the vote.

A further reason why the suffragettes did not receive the vote was that they did not stick together. In September 1907, The WSPU split into two. It was still dominated by the Pankhursts but some members broke away to form the ‘Women’s Freedom League’. The two organisations often worked together but there were many disagreements about the amount of violence. The Pethick Lawrences left in 1912, they were the fundraisers.

At the 1913 Derby, to draw attention to the women’s movement, Emily Davidson stepped out in front of the king’s horse and attempted to snatch the rains. It is claimed that Emily held on for a few seconds, but the horse moving at over 30mph and weighing over three-quarters of a ton, knocked her over. The horse stumbled throwing the rider, Jones violently to the ground. He and Davidson were both bleeding badly. Unfortunately, Davidson never regained consciousness and died four days later.

On 10th March 1914, Suffragette Mary Richardson violently slashed Velazquez’s “Rokeby Venus” at London’s National Gallery as a protest against the British government’s treatment of Emmeline Pankhurst.

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