Monday, April 11, 2011

The Belle Epoque, the New Women, and the Suffrage Movement

Emmeline Pankhurst writes her story of the women’s struggle for suffrage in the twentieth century. She tells of her childhood and how she always seemed to notice that society esteemed men above women. At just fourteen years old she attended her first suffrage meeting instilling early on her firm belief that women should have the opportunity to vote just as the men did.

Pankhurst then follows with the countless attmepts of the suffragettes to gain suffrage women. Time and time again Herbert Henry Asquith, the Liberal Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, promised to propose a bill allowing the vote to women, however, every time he was able sneak out of it and go yet another year without allowing it. Pankhursts noted that ironically, Mr Asquith’s broken promises only “resulted in a strengthening of the woman-suffrage agitation all over the country”. After avoiding proposing the bill in 1910, 1911, and 1912, only two members of the house, Mr. Henderson and Mr. Keir Hardie had the boldness to stand up and declare the “treachery” of the the government for not simply adding to a bill an amendment to allow suffrage to women.

In Alyson Brown’s “Conflicting Objectives”, Brown addresses the further irony of the suffragettes’ plight for suffrage. The suffragettes pledged to wreak public havoc- such as commit arson, attack public buildings, or incite public disorder- in order to prove to the government of the seriousness of their cause. When the suffragettes were caught, they were put in prison, where they furthered their rebellion. Through hunger and thirst strikes the suffragettes often were able to be released early, I which they would freely enjoy furthering their plight for suffrage free from prison. The government and prisons combatted these unique strikes by force feeing the women. Most of the time the warden’s and prison workers who were required to force feed the women on strike were female. This greatly angered the suffragettes. They felt the wardenesses were “traitors to their gender”. The suffragettes were fighting and sacrificing for a cause that would only give more freedom to women, yet these female prison workers were only reversing their hard work.

Pankhurst was quotes regarding the hunger and thirst strikes in prison, “we press our cause to give the government two options, to give us justice or give us violence”. And indeed these women, especially Pankhurst did.

These two readings on Pankhurst obviously fall under the theme of WOMENS’ SUFFRAGE. Pankhurst’s writings on the struggle for suffrage, as well as Brown’s article on the irony of the suffragettes struggle portray how firm society was on keeping women from voting. It took five years of hunger and food strikes in prison for the women to get across to society the seriousness of their cause. Because of women like Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes women now enjoy the right of suffrage today.


  1. I believe that it was important for women to be able to vote, but the way that the suffragettes acted seemed to show that women shouldn’t have been allowed to vote. Drastic measures may have been needed, but I don’t think that the guerilla warfare was the way to go. In class we have discussed how women were responsible for teaching their sons to be good, model citizens. The way that these women seemed to be acting was not a representation of a good citizen. If these women were demonstrating the harm that they could potential cause to a society, what would happen if they were allowed to vote? There actions seemed to provide evidence that would support their opposition and not their intended cause. It doesn’t surprise me that it took so long for women to gain suffrage with the drastic measures that these women were taking.

  2. I agree with Haley. If anything, participants in guerilla warfare show that they are incapable of engaging in civil public discourse. I will allow, however, that it is not as though men would have made it easy for suffragettes to vocalize their opinions.

    This reminds me of a youtube video my friend showed me of a male high school student's wage to "end women's suffrage." It was just a joke on the student's part, but it was appalling to see how many girls did not really understand the meaning of "suffrage." They eagerly signed the student's petition to "end women's suffrage", thinking that they were doing the opposite. The student showed only one girl who refused to sign. While he probably edited the video to prove his point, there were still plenty of girls who declared their desire to "end women's suffrage." Clearly, we need to re-emphasize the importance of suffrage in school.