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Suffragettes100: How women’s suffrage became a reality

PUBLISHED: 13:00 02 February 2018

Suffragettes marching in London to protest the first arrest of a suffragette in London. Picture: PA Photos

Suffragettes marching in London to protest the first arrest of a suffragette in London. Picture: PA Photos

PA/PA Photos

To mark the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote on Tuesday, next week’s paper will be a special women’s edition.

To kick-start the celebrations, Hayley Anderson delves into the history of the suffragettes and their role in history.

Suffragette Emily Davison lies on the ground after attempting to grab hold of the King George V horse, Anmer. She later died from her injuriesSuffragette Emily Davison lies on the ground after attempting to grab hold of the King George V horse, Anmer. She later died from her injuries

In a world where political debates and talks of current affairs often dominate conversations, it’s hard to imagine a time when more than half of the country’s population did not have the right to vote.

But this was the reality 100 years ago.

Fast forward to 2018, and women are continuing to use their vote to have their say, thanks to the hard work of suffragettes.

Co-founder of the East End Women’s Museum, a public history project which aims to commemorate women’s stories, Sarah Jackson, said: “This year marks not only 100 years since most women over 30 won the vote, but 90 years since women finally won the vote on equal terms to men, at the age of 21.

“It’s wonderful to see the suffragettes - and the suffragists, their peaceful counterparts - take their place in history this year, with events across the country celebrating this huge milestone for gender equality and democracy and the courage of the women who won it.”

From the outside looking in, it would be easy to believe that the movement began during the First World War, as large numbers of women became more independent when they took over vacant jobs left by men who went off to fight.

However, the suffrage sentiment was stirring long before the war was declared.

The move for women to have the vote really started in 1897, when Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, an organisation of women’s suffrage societies.

They vocalised that if women had to obey laws made by parliament, then they should be part of the process in making them, but politicians at the time did not believe women would understand how politics works.

Angered by this, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia knew further action had to be taken, so set up the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903, which later became better known as the Suffragettes.

From chaining themselves to Buckingham Palace and going on hunger strikes in prison, to Emily Davison who died after throwing herself under the King’s horse at the June 1913 Derby, for the next 15 years, the suffragettes truly fought for their rights.

Sarah said: “The women’s suffrage movement was not only successful in winning the vote for women, it proved to be a training ground for generations of women campaigners who took the skills, confidence, and networks they had built in the struggle for the vote to fight for equal rights in other areas.

“They recognised that the vote would give them a stronger voice and greater leverage to improve the lot of their whole community - it was always about more than just the vote.

“Today’s women’s organisations and feminist campaigns are the suffragettes’ living legacy.”

In August 1914, war was declared and as a sign of patriotism, Emmeline Pankhurst instructed the suffragettes to stop their campaign of violence and give their support to the government.

Women played a vital part in the Home Front during the First World War, supporting their country by not only fulfilling their everyday household duties, but by taking on the job roles of men while they were away.

It was then in 1918 that the Representation of the People Act, the law that gave women the right to vote, was passed by parliament.

The war could be seen as a catalyst in the victory of women’s suffrage, but the possibility of the vote would not have been on the cards without the brave and relentless efforts of the suffragettes.

Sarah hopes progress will continue to be made, with the 100th anniversary in mind.

“Women are still underrepresented in many places of power and held back by sexist stereotypes.

“More than anything, I hope the celebrations this year inspire people to keep fighting for equality.”

Read next week’s paper for more coverage on the 100th anniversary.

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