War and the transformation of British society c1903–28
Key Topic 1: The Liberals, votes for women and social reform
Key Topic 2: The part played by the British on the Western Front
The BEF and 1914. Overview
The end of the war. Overview
Key Topic 3: The home front and social change
DORA, censorship and propaganda. Overview
Recruitment and rationing. Overview
The part played by women. Overview
Key Topic 4: Economic and social change 1918–28
The changing role of women 1918–28. Overview
The General Strike of 1926. Overview
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.
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