The June meeting of East Markham WI heard Sam Glasswell from Bassetlaw Museum talk on the subject of ‘women’s rights and suffragettes’. Dressed as a campaigner and wearing a ‘votes for women’ sash, Sam explained that the word suffrage meaning the ‘right to vote’, applied to both men and women. The history of suffrage began in Saxon times when the King was all powerful, the 1215 Magna Carta gave some power to the Barons and in 1258 a form of parliament, elected by a number of towns, was agreed. The 1832 Great Reform Act cleaned up the ‘rotten boroughs’, including Retford, and gave representation to more areas.
During the Victorian era, women had more access to education and, campaigns for women’s rights became more organised. By the 1880s women were more politically active, founding the Primrose League in 1883 and the Women’s Federation in 1886. After the defeat of a 1897 Bill, Millicent Fawcett became leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) — the Suffragists — which sort change by peaceful means. Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women’s Social and Political Union, (WSPU) — the suffragettes — with the slogan ‘deeds not words’. Hoping to be arrested and treated as political prisoners, suffragettes went to political rallies and heckled speakers.
A 1906 NUWSS procession for the right to vote, attracted between 3,000 and 4,000 women, as did their 1907 Hyde Park rally, both were peaceful events. The more militant suffragettes broke windows, chained themselves to railings and attacked Members of Parliament. Many were arrested and went on hunger strike, eventually they were force fed, resulting in one fatality. When the 1910 Conciliation Bill failed, many women stormed Parliament, and two of them died, as a result of police brutality. The suffragettes then began an arson campaign. On Derby Day 1913, Emily Wilding Davidson ran towards the King’s Horse, was knocked to the ground and later died from her injuries. Her funeral attracted thousands of supporters. As the suffragettes became more violent their support waned, but that for the suffragists increased.
On the outbreak of war in 1914, all campaigning stopped. As men went to war, women went to work. In 1915, Asquith, acknowledging that women were doing men’s jobs, agreed to give women’s rights campaigners a fair hearing. In 1918 women over thirty were given the vote, and in 1928 they were granted the same voting rights as men. Exhibits from the museum, including leaflets, hammers and a bomb making kit, illustrated many aspects of women’s struggle for the right to vote.
The next meeting is on Tuesday 20th August, a history of Lincoln Cathedral with Vic Hughes. New members and visitors are always welcome.