Women Suffrage Essay

10 October 2016

How far the women’s suffrage movement was responsible for women being granted the vote needs to be judged against other important factors such as the First World War, political changes and changes in other countries. By 1914, there 56 different groups of women’s suffrage with 300,000 members. The Suffragists (NUWSS) by 1910 had over 21,000 members. It consisted of mainly middle class and liberal links, but also working class members. The suffragists were a non-violent group, who used tradition actions in help to gain the vote.

They gained support from MPs shown in a series of Private Members Bills. The Suffragettes (WPSU) employed 98 women office workers in London. They were associated with upper class, but also working class support. They went by violent, militant actions. Their use of violent actions lost sympathy and support from much needed supporters. In 1903, women’s suffrage was put back on the agenda after parliamentary lull in 1897-1907. It is clear both groups had positive and negative effects. They united women of all classes for the first time. They kept issue at the forefront of the media.

On the other hand, Martin Pugh said: “The Pankhurts (WSPU) proved a highly divisive force within the women’s movements. They inflicted a catalogue of splits among militant forces. There are no grounds for the view that the WSPU shifted public opinion in favour, rather than reverse. ” The First World War had a large impact on women gaining the right to vote due to their help in work during the war. Women’s suffrage movements stopped their campaigns for the vote and rallied for the “Right to Serve”. Women gained a lot of respect for this war work.

Women did a wide range of jobs including munitions work, hospital jobs and farm work. The also took over “men’s work”. Women entered the armed services – Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps. The enthusiasm and energy they put into their work changed male attitudes. There are two views on the impact the First World War and the work of the women during this time having the influence on women gaining the right to vote, these views consisted of the traditional view, historian John Roy claims: “Women proved by their work that they deserved the vote equally with men.

Thus their war efforts succeeded where the Suffragette campaign failed. ” The other view point was the revisionist view, historian Martin Pugh claimed that saying that the First World War was the most important factor is too simplistic as after 1918, women were removed from wartime employment. As well as this, in the 1920s the theory that “a women’s place is in the home” was as strong as ever. Politicians changed their minds as the existing law excluded soldiers from voting due to lack of long term residence. This could not continue after the war.

If the law was changed, women had to be included as they had worked hard too. Enfranchising soldiers gave the politicians a way to climb down on female votes. Ultimately, this is very important as MPs are the only people who can actually change the law. In May 1915, the Liberal Government became a coalition. MPs that were pro-suffrage were included in the new Cabinet such as Balfour and Arthur Henderson. In December 1916, Asquith was replaced by pro-suffrage PM, Lloyd George. The Coalition Government removed the strict divisions between the parties and encouraged cooperation.

MPs felt more confident if they granted 8 million women the vote as they would not all vote for one party through gratitude. There were advances in other areas such as education and law. There was important progress in education. In 1897, first women’s colleges were founded at Oxford University. As well as this, there were important changed in law, such as the increasing acceptance of divorce, 2 royal commission reports in 1912 sought to have women and men give the same rights and also improvements were made to the rights over custody of children. These changes forced MPs to take calls for the vote seriously.

Events in other countries were another factor which helped the women’s suffrage movement. Other countries had granted universal suffrage such as; New Zealand, Finland and Australia – this put pressure on the United Kingdom to keep up. Britain was presenting itself as the “mother of democracy” in First World War propaganda so it was an embarrassment to be less democratic than other countries. In December 1917, Communist revolution in Russia led to a desire to strengthen parliamentary democracy in the UK. Votes for women would include them in the democratic process.

Women won the argument and were granted the vote. Ever previous opponents, such as Asquith, by 1914 had to accept that the time had come to give women the right to vote. The women’s suffrage groups had raised awareness of the issues. Historian Martin Pugh said that: “Male prejudice against women melted in the face of revelations about their capabilities during war time and their contribution to the war effort. “ In conclusion, although evidence is incomplete, it would appear that women’s suffrage would not have succeeded without consistent campaigning of the pre-war years.

From the mid 1860’s a wide range of methods were used to persuade the government and the public of the justice of the cause. Perhaps it was the fear of a return to militancy of pre-war years which forced the government to include women in a franchise bill. However, events during the war were undoubtedly important. Historian Paula Bartley had noted that “neither the view that women achieved the vote because of their pre-war campaigns nor the view that women achieved the vote because of the war is ultimately sustainable”. In other words, a combination of factors were responsible for the achievement of the female franchise in 1918.

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