Suffragettes100: Who do you know who embodies the spirit of the suffragettes?
PUBLISHED: 12:30 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:04 09 February 2018
Suffragettes across the nation fought for many years to win the vote - and the women who came after them haven’t stopped fighting for change ever since.
Since 1918, women in the UK have channelled the suffragette spirit to campaign for progress.
They have stood up to racism, sexism, homophobia, corruption and much more. Last century’s suffragettes are today’s women’s human rights defenders. Every day they harness their passionate voices to empower communities and create a fairer world.
To commemorate today’s 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Britain, Amnesty and this newspaper are calling upon readers to nominate the incredible women who are working to make a real difference in their local community today.
They might have stood up to bullies, helped the homeless, aided refugees, campaigned for better access to healthcare. They could have challenged bad business practices, worked to protect the environment, prevented forced evictions, and much more.
Every time these women have spoken up, set up a petition, sent a letter to their MP, set up a local campaigning group or marched for rights, they’ve taken steps towards making life better for others.
To nominate an amazing woman your local area, please visit www.amnesty.org.uk/suffragettespirit. All women must have carried out work to help others their local area within the last 10 years.
All successful nominees will be contacted to give consent prior to being placed on the Suffragette Spirit Map of Britain, a vital part of Amnesty’s global BRAVE campaign to champion and protect human rights defenders around the world. This campaign has been funded by People’s Postcode Lottery.
What is a suffragette?
Before 1918 women had almost no role in British politics – they didn’t even have the right to vote. A woman’s role was domestic, encompassing little outside having children and taking care of the home. The suffragettes changed this.
The 19th century was an era of massive change. The Industrial Revolution and numerous reforms, including the abolition of slavery in 1833, saw society changed forever. Women did see some progress – in 1859 the first female doctor was registered, in 1878 women could graduate from university, and in 1882 women were allowed to keep inherited property and wages. But they still couldn’t vote.
Campaigns for women’s rights, including the right to vote, started around the mid-19th century, after Mary Smith delivered the first women’s suffrage petition to parliament in 1832. But it wasn’t really until 1897, when Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, that the campaign for women’s suffrage really gained momentum.
These campaigners were known as suffragists and they believed debate, petitions and peaceful protest were the keys to success. But the suffragists failed to get results, and many campaigners decided a more militant approach was required.
In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst, and her two daughters Christabel and Sylvia, set up the Women’s Political and Social Union in Manchester with its slogan ‘deeds not words’. These women became known as suffragettes and soon made headlines up and down the country.
Suffragettes were a shock to Edwardian society. They interrupted political meetings, chained themselves to railings, yelled while waving banners emblazoned with ‘VOTES FOR WOMEN’, were regularly arrested, went on hunger strike, cut phone lines and one, Emily Davidson, even threw herself under a horse to get the suffragette message heard.
But the suffragettes’ fight paid off. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed, giving women over the age of 30, and who owned a certain amount of property, the right to vote. It would be a further 10 years until the vote was extended to all women, when the Equal Franchise Act was passed, but it was a major step in the right direction.