WWI and Women’s Right to Vote in 1918

WWI and Women’s Right to Vote in 1918The Campaign for women’s right to vote started in the 1860’s with
mainly middle class women and some men. At first the campaigning was
peaceful and respectable and the lobbying was conducted discretely,
without causing hindrance to anyone. It commenced in large cities such
as London and Manchester however soon more people joined and the
campaign spread across England. The women were known as suffragists
(NUWSS) and were an amalgamation of many suffragists’ societies but
after four decades of campaigning some women felt they had made no
progress and decided to take violent action. These were known as
suffragettes (WSPU) and started in 1903. This breakaway group was led
by the Pankhurst family and used more militant and radical means. This
made the general public and parliament realise that they could no
longer ignore this campaign and something would have to be done. Even
so it was still another fifty years until women finally got the vote.
Prime Minster Asquith was strongly opposed to women’s suffrage but
agreed to meet a deputation of women. He told them they must show
there was widespread support for their cause before the government
would introduce a bill into parliament. In response theWSPUstaged a
demonstration of 200,000 people on the 21st of June 1908 which was
pre-war. Source A is a photograph of this demonstration but there is
some discrepancy over the exact number of people there. The picture is
also posed and therefore could not be a true example of the whole of
the protest. It is counter propaganda and was therefore produced to
change people’s views. The protest was non-violent unlike some other
protests the suffragettes were involved in and is trying to show the
public that the women have grace and decorum and therefore should have
the right to vote. It shows that there was much support for women’s
suffrage but Asquith, despite this clear indication of support, and
numerous petitions, did nothing.
The suffragettes became increasingly frustrated with Asquith’s
stalling tactics and in October there was a violent clash with the
police resulting in 24 women being arrested. This was just the start
of use of more violent tactics such as smashing the windows in downing
of Street. Christabel Pankhurst tries to justify this more violent
approach in source B by saying the only way women can protest is
through ‘disorderly ‘ methods. This untrue because petitions and
peaceful demonstrations are orderly methods of protest and were used
by the suffragette but she obviously felt theses were ineffective.
Furthermore the fact that she had to justify the actions of theWSPUsuggests that not many people at the time supported her more militant
approach to the campaign.
Source E exemplifies a peaceful method of protest. It argues that
women may be nurses, doctor, teachers and even mayors and not be given
the vote whereas any man retained the vote. It is a piece of counter
propaganda designed to persuade people that women deserve the vote.
The source doesn’t give any figures to support its assertions,
probably because the number of women in the said jobs would be very
low. It also shows women and men in their extremes and is not very
Source C also shows a lack of progress made by the women. Emmeline
Pankhurst is trying to persuade the government and general public that
allowing women to vote will not take them away from their traditional
roles in the home. This attempt to reassure men suggests that they
didn’t have many male supporters. Source F also shows that the
conservative party was against votes for women, which demonstrates
women’s failure to convince many politicians. There had been rising
tensions for six years in a naval race with Germany and had been
problems with both the Balkans and Morocco so the government had more
pressing matters to deal with. The idea that men risk their lives for
their country and therefore have a right to vote on what happens, but
during the war women were actively involved for the first time so this
argument was no longer valid.
Source G states that for the ‘majority’ of women were not concerned
about winning the vote. This is a secondary source but was written by
a historian and therefore would have taken an objective view. Although
he wouldn’t have been there at the time to experience the true
attitudes himself. The source is from a book which describes all of
Britain’s social history from 1870 to 1914 and is therefore unlikely
to have focused on women’s suffrage and may not have looked into the
subject in sufficient depth to make an accurate prediction of the
events. The Source explains that all women wanted was a better life
and to be able to have some input in the affairs that effected them,
and didn’t want to extend there roles.
In 1910 a conciliation Bill to give some women the vote passes in its
second reading in Parliament, but Asquith suspend parliament and held
a general election so the bill could not become law. This outraged theWSPUbecause they had to start all over again and another government
could come into power. On the 18th of November over four hundred
suffragettes set out for parliament. The march turned into a riot and
a bloody fight with the police ensued. One hundred and fifty women
were the victims of physical or sexual assaults and one hundred and
twenty women were arrested. Source D is a newspaper report which
condemns the ‘Black Friday’ march. The article is littered with
inaccuracies such as the claim that it was a suffragist attack when in
fact it was the suffragettes. It probably reflects the view of the
readers at the time which were probably middle class men and therefore
shows a lack of support for the campaign from men. The language used
in the article shows the obvious bias of the article, for example the
description of omen being ‘reckless’. This further supports the claim
that many people were still opposed to women’s suffrage. The article
could have just been the writer or editors opinion but is more likely
to be the view of the general public at that time because the aim of
the article was to sell papers.
TheNUWSSbecame very concerned that the WSPU’s militant tactics were
harming the cause as they alienated more cautious sympathisers, and
angered politicians rather than converting them to their cause.
Despite the pressure exerted by the two groups between 1897 and 1914,
women were not granted the right to vote. In 1914 both organisations
called off their campaigns to concentrate on winning the war.
During the war life for many women changed dramatically. Millions of
men joined the military and were sent abroad to fight, leaving many
vital positions open that had previously been filled by men. Women
therefore had to do the jobs. Millions of women volunteered for work.
Working class women found working factories making ammunitions and
clothing for the soldiers. Others worked in the Women’s Land Army
keeping the farms going so the country would not starve. The work was
very physical demanding as everything was done by hand ton save fuel.
Many middle class and some upper class women joined the voluntary aid
detachment. They worked as nurses; often bear the front lines giving
wounded soldiers basic medical care. Women also worked in many other
jobs which had previously been considered ‘male’ jobs.
Sources H, I and J show the impact of the War on how women were viewed
by society and by the government. Source H shows a man and woman being
portrayed as equally important because women were shown to be
absolutely vital to the war effort. However the source doesn’t give
any idea about the view of parliament or the general public at the
time and therefore they could have been unchanged. Source I is a
historian assessing Britain 1899-1948 so he is unlikely to have
focused on women’s suffrage and he doesn’t support any figures to
support his claim. However, he will be trying to present an unbiased
view so he is probably correct when he states that some men
co-operated with women doing the same jobs, while others sabotaged
their work. In source j former Prime minister Asquith in 1917,
advocates giving women the vote as a reward for their efforts during
the war. He is encouraging women to keep working hard, but such a
strong shift in view shows that at least he felt women had earned the
right to the vote. It also shows that if he was giving it as a reward
more than a few women must have wanted the vote so women attitudes may
have also changed.
To conclude, the sources and other information show that women made
progress in all areas of life. They were granted more rights as time
went on, however by 1914 they had still not been granted the right to
vote, despite large scale campaign. Opinions were gradually moving
towards support for women’s suffrage but in 1914 the majority of
politicians didn’t share the view. I think that even withoutWWIwomen
would eventually have been granted the right to vote but it could have
been a long time after 1918.WWIwas a catalyst which speeded up the
process. It earned women the respect of men and the parliament because
they were vital to the war effort. It was seen that women could
operate outside of the home and therefore gained the right to vote as
a reward for there invaluable efforts in the war. After the war men
realised that women wouldn’t go back to the roles in the home they had
previously fulfilled and therefore withoutWWIwomen wouldn’t have
gained the right to vote in 1918.