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War and the transformation of British society c1903–28

Key Topic 1: The Liberals, votes for women and social reform

The activities of the women’s societies and the reaction of the authorities. Overview

Children’s welfare measures, old age pensions. Overview

Labour Exchanges 1909, the National Insurance Act 1911. Overview

The political position of women in 1903




Reactions of the authorities to militancy and protest

Forced feeding

The ‘Cat and Mouse Act’

Children’s Charter (1906)

The School Meals Act (1906)

Medical Inspection, 1907.

The reasons for and importance of Old Age Pensions Act (1908).

Labour Exchanges (1909)

National Insurance Act 1911.

Key Topic 2: The part played by the British on the Western Front

The BEF and 1914. Overview

Britain’s contribution to the Western Front 1915–17. Overview

The end of the war. Overview

The despatch of the BEF

The part played in the events of 1914

The failure of the Schlieffen Plan

The race for the sea

Setting up of the trench system.

The nature of trench warfare

Haig and the Battle of the Somme

The development and importance of new weapons



The creeping barrage.

Britain’s part in the events of 1918

Ludendorff’s offensives

The drive to victory.

Key Topic 3: The home front and social change

DORA, censorship and propaganda. Overview

Recruitment and rationing. Overview

The part played by women. Overview

The importance of censorship

Examples of propaganda

The various methods of recruitment: 1914–16

The reasons for, and impact of, conscription: 1916–18

Conscientious objectors.


The effects of submarine warfare on Britain

Measures brought in by the Government to alleviate the threat of U-Boats.

Key Topic 4: Economic and social change 1918–28

The changing role of women 1918–28. Overview

Industrial unrest 1918–27. Overview

The General Strike of 1926. Overview

Extension of the franchise

The changes in women’s work and social changes.

Trade union membership

Industrial militancy in the years 1918–20

The long-term and immediate problems of the coal industry

Black Friday (1921)

Red Friday (1925)

The Samuel Commission (March 1926).

Government preparations and measures to deal with the General Strike

The reasons why the TUC called off the General strike

Trades Disputes Act of 1927.


The Womens Social and Political Union was formed in October 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, who was joined by her daughters Christabel, Sylvia and Adela. The aim of the WSPU was to ensure that all women got the vote on the same basis as men. This was different to other suffrage groups who wanted votes for all women.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst

The WPSU gained national attention and press coverage in 1905. Christabel Pankhurst and Ada Nield Chew attended a meeting at which Sir Edward Grey was making a speech. The heckled him throughout, shoutiing questions such as 'Will the Liberal Government give voes to women?' The two women then refused to leave the meeting and put up a struggle when the police were called in to remove them. They were charged with assault and found guilty. It was the first time tha violence had been used in the campaign for womens suffrage: and it was this case that led to the term 'Suffragette' being used to distinguish between violent and non violent methods.

The WPSU then began organising rallies and demonstrations. In 1906 members of the WPSU were arrested for repeatedly banging on the door of 10 Downing Street. The organisation suffered from a bout of in house disagreements as different leading members argued about whether or not they should argue for votes for all women, or just votes for women on the same basis as for men (you had to be a male property holder to vote at this time).

In 1908 Emmeline Pankhurst came up with a new campaign strategy: Smashing Windows. On 30th June 1908 27 women were arrested for throwing stones at the windows of 10 Downing Street and later that year there were violent clashes with police as Suffragettes tried to force their way into the Houses of Parliament.

The violent campaign continued in 1909. Some of the women who were imprisoned decided o make their point by going on Hunger Strike. This posed a major problem for the authorities who did not want to see female prisoners dying. They initially adopted the tactic of force feeding the hunger strikers, which led to a public outcry. They then introduced the cat and Mouse Act.

Violence increased and included direct attacks on leading politicians such as Herbery Asquith, Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George. Window smashing and hunger strikes continued and an arson campaign was begun. In 1913 Emily Davison jumped in front of the Kings horse during the Derby. She tried to grab the reins of the horse but was knocked over. She died of the injuries sustained.

By the summer of 1914 over 1000 women had been imprisoned as a result of violent protests.

When war was declared the WPSU stopped its violent campaign and argued that women should have the right to work for the country. They organised large rallies and called for women to be allowed to work in factories.

In 1917 Parliament voted to grant some women the vote. The Pankhursts established The Womens Party and Christabel Pankhurst stood for election.


Source: E Pankhurst's autobiography

It was on October 10, 1903 that I invited a number of women to my house in Nelson Street, Manchester, for purposes of organisation. We voted to call our new society the Women's Social and Political Union, partly to emphasize its democracy, and partly to define its object as political rather than propagandist. We resolved to limit our membership exclusively to women, to keep ourselves absolutely free from party affiliation, and to be satisfied with nothing but action on our question. "Deeds, not Words" was to be our permanent motto.

Source: E Pankhurst, My Own Story

The Women's Social and Political Union had been in existence two years before any opportunity was presented to work on a national scale. The autumn of 1905 brought a political situation, which seemed to us to promise bright hopes for women's enfranchisement. The life of the old Parliament was coming to an end, and the country was on the eve of a general election in which the liberals hoped to be returned to power… The only object worth trying for was pledges from responsible leaders that the new Government would make women's suffrage a part of the official programme.


History Learning Site - the WSPU

Wikipedia - Women's Social and Political Union

Spartacus - WPSU

Looking at History - blog article about the changes that the WPSU brought about

Victoria Web - the WPSU




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