Democracy – The long and often bloody fight for freedom – The Suffragettes.
It is hard to imagine that we are commemorating the vote for women just one hundred years ago this year.
The Tories and Whigs (both of whom represented the wealthy) were terrified that giving votes to men would destroy their voting base and put poor people in control of the country. That did not happen. They used their tactics and the force of the media to keep control.
Then when women were also demanding the vote they saw this as another nail in their coffin.
What they feared was fairness, equality and fair pay and conditions undermining their profits.
Suffrage is the right to vote. The use of the term suffragette was introduced to be derogatory to women supporters of the right for females to vote and be equal to men.
A novel idea only a hundred years ago.
Many women wanted to have the vote. And they fought for it.
If anyone is in any doubt as to the strength, resolve, intelligence, bravery and resilience of women they only have to look at the history and actions of the British suffragettes. They were no dainty feminine flowers to be pushed around. They stood their ground and fought for their rights with all the fierceness and strength of mountain lions. There was no way they were going to back down or lose. Strangely the suffragettes were largely from the middle-classes and upper classes. The grinding poverty of the working classes was probably a factor in deterring them from becoming involved in the struggle. But the suffragettes knew how to organise.
They wanted the vote and they got it.
The tactics were active and sometimes violent. They used hunger strikes, chaining themselves to railings, arson and destroying mailboxes. Whatever it took to raise awareness. Emily Davidson threw herself under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby and was killed.
Women were arrested and force-fed.
Emmeline Pankhurst was responsible for developing these militant tactics and refused to back down.
The supposed case against giving women the vote was that they were too emotional. Prime Minister Asquith changed his mind about supporting the vote for women because he thought they might vote against him. The establishment did not want democracy. It threatened their wealth and power.
The First World War intervened and the involvement of women on the home-front doing the work of their absent men forced the issue. In 1918 men over the age of twenty one were given the vote and women over the age of thirty (with caveats about owning property).
It was not until as late as 1928 that women over the age of twenty one were given the vote.
Every concession has been hard fought for and equality was a long time coming – it hasn’t even arrived yet!