Changing attitudes to women & their right to vote


1) There are many reasons as to why women failed to gain the right to vote between 1900 and 1914.


One reason was due to the slow progress of the Suffragists, an anti-violence group lead by Millicent Fawcett that campaigned for many human rights, including women’s suffrage. They formed in 1897 and won a great deal of supporters because they did everything peacefully and in a ‘ladylike’ fashion, which was looked highly upon by other women and some men. However they had a slow approach to everything, even their leader compared their movement to a ‘glacier’. They did not achieve much and failed to accumulate much publicity, and eventually women became impatient with their progress. They had several of their bills to issue women’s suffrage rejected by the government, who were able to ignore them because their peaceful protests meant they weren’t a danger to anyone.


Another factor that caused women’s failure in achieving suffrage was the extreme violence of another group, called the Suffragettes. They were formed in 1903 after their leader Emmeline Pankhurst became eager to advance the work of the Suffragists, by using violence and force. Unlike the Suffragists, the Suffragettes focused on gaining the vote for women and did not care for Millicent Fawcett’s peaceful way of protest. They caught a huge amount of public attention due to their severe and aggressive demonstrations, despite the fact that they were reasonably peaceful during the early stages of their formation. Many women thought they were ‘unstable’ and ‘insane’, as did many men, and because of their actions it seemed as though they were exactly as they had been labelled. In the height of their violence in 1913, they lost many supporters as they went to extremes such as torching public buildings and bombing the houses of political figures. They could’ve gained support from many people due to their cause and determination but the Government could not be seen giving into their violence incase it encouraged other extremist groups, so it is likely that the Suffragettes harmed women’s chances of getting the vote rather than encouraged it.


The Government at the time was also a cause as to why women failed to get the vote. The Suffragettes thought they would’ve had the support of the Liberal government, however they did not and the Prime Minister, Chancellor Asquith, believed that politics wouldn’t gain from women having the vote. A few Liberalists claimed that they supported women’s suffrage however they took no action in advancing the matter. The labour party believed that there were more important matters to campaign for such as universal suffrage and believed they would be favouring the Conservatives if they supported women’s right to vote. The negative output from the Government did halter the chances of women gaining the vote. They were also too busy dealing with the Home rule, a violent campaign in Ireland, and trade unions to properly consider the issue that was being put to them.


There were also many men, some of which were MPs, who held strong views against women’s suffrage. It was a stereotyped opinion that had been carried on from past generations but men still believed them to be superior to women. Because so many of the people who could’ve influenced the issuing of women’s suffrage were men who had this opinion, they did everything in their attempt to stop women having the vote such as Lord Lytton who believed militancy resulted from the mental instability of women and Chancellor Asquith, who did everything in his power to stop suffrage for women.


In conclusion there were several factors, some moderately long term (the Suffragettes) and others very long term (the Suffragists), that built up between 1900 and 1914 and resulted in women not gaining suffrage.


“Without the First World War British women would not have gained the right to vote in 1918”.


I partially agree with this statement. There are several sources, which agree with this interpretation. For example Source D, which is a publicised magazine, called ‘War Worker’ from 1917 has been written to promote equality between men and women. It is a Primary source, however, it is a cartoon that has been designed to encourage unity between both sexes so is