S5 Female Suffrage 2


The Effectiveness of the Woman's Suffrage Campaigns

    • Unfair preconception of the NUWSS as the weaker of the two organisations.

      • Provide evidence to counter this misconception.

    • Unjustified preconception that the WSPU was the more effective of the two movements. 

      • Provide evidence and argument to qualify this misconception.  

        • A more dramatic and colourful movement but not necessarily more effective.

        • Possible that it appears to have more historical significance because it garnered more headlines and media interest.

        • Martin Pugh claimed that the Pankhursts had a particular talent for self-publicity 

    • ACTUAL ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE TWO ORGANISATIONS

      • NUWSS

        • Seen as a more respectable organisation, especially during the 'wild period' of the suffragette campaign (1913) 

        • Membership continues to increase while WSPU membership is declining.

        • As early as 1912 they had achieved 'agreement in principle' from a large number of MPs, to support the campaign for women's suffrage

        • Achieved active links with Trade Union organisations and an agreement of mutual support with the newly emerging Labour Party.

          • This puts genuine political pressure on the Liberal Government.

        • The Representation of the People Act, 1918, it could be argued, fulfils the stated aims of the NUWSS which was not originally seeking equal franchise. It was seeking the vote for propertied, upper and middle class women.

        • However, it has been argued that the patient, legalistic approach was easy for governments to ignore, even when they had 'agreed in principle'.

      • WSPU

        • Certainly did achieve publicity and media interest. But often it was the kind of publicity which generated as much hostility as it did support.

          • Shrinking membership and evidence of women leaving the WSPU to join the NUWSS. 

            • Martin Pugh says that the growing numbers of women leaving the WSPU for the NUWSS is 'probably the one constructive contribution of the Pankhursts to winning the vote'.

              • However, not every historian agrees with Pugh's analysis. Some are unwilling to be so dismissive of the WSPU contribution.

                • There is evidence that the government is genuinely afraid of a resumption of militancy and the moral difficulty of dealing with hunger strikers during and after the war.

                  • When war was declared the government released all WSPU prisoners. They also offered a £2000 grant to the WSPU if they would call off their campaign.

                    • The government was keen to avoid a situation wherein they were imprisoning women, after the war, whom they had been praising during it.

                • Elspeth King and Leah Leneman both argue that the WSPU publicity was on the whole a positive contribution. Constance Rover emphasises the government's genuine fear of resumed militancy.

    • The Role of the War 

      • In assessing the effectiveness of the two campaigns we must also tackle the assertions that WW1 was a significant factor in winning the vote for women.

      • Ray's analysis is overly simplistic and dismisses the contributions of the two suffrage movements and the steady, if slow, development of the position of women in British society.

        • Ray attributes the success in 1918 specifically to the role that women played in war work.

          • Close examination of the facts do not support Ray's analysis. 

            • A more reasonable argument would be that of AJP Taylor who argued that the war simply 'smoothed the way for democracy' in general terms. It is important to note that this concern of the government's to extend the franchise was primarily prompted by the need to deal with problems arising for men as a result of conscription and the residency rule. Women's issues were a secondary concern. 

  • CONCLUSION

    • The war then was a significant factor as it acts as a catalyst for broader democratic reform that would almost certainly have happened even without the 4 years of social upheaval and fighting.

    • There is great debate among historians about the relative importance of the two movements. 

      • There is compelling evidence to support Martin Pugh's assertion that the NUWSS where the more significant of the two organisations. He points to their achievements in membership and their relations with the Labour Party and Trade unions and the pressure this put on the Government to do something for women.

      • However, other historians are convinced that the militant tactics of the WSPU exerted a comparable force on the government.