Suffragists and Suffragettes

December 2018 marked 100 years since women first voted in the 1918 General Election. Even then, only women aged over 30 could vote (40% of the electorate) as an electorate evenly divided between men and women was politically unacceptable! Women had to wait another 10 years before Electoral Equality was finally achieved in 1928.

Of course, Electoral Equality did not just happen. The women’s suffrage movement was born out of the frustrations of those tired of not having their voices heard. It required tireless effort by several generations of women who were not afraid to speak out.

In 1897, various local women’s suffrage societies came together to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (lead by Millicent Fawcett).” The law-abiding suffragists “of the NUWSS promoted their cause by debate, petitions and peaceful demonstrations. Possibly the most spectacular was the Great Pilgrimage of 1913 from Cambridge through Hertfordshire to a rally in Hyde Park. Not all went smoothly; The Pilgrims had to be rescued by the police from a hostile mob as they tried to march through Ware.

Frustrated at the glacial pace of progress a group of women (lead by Emmeline Pankhurst) broke away in 1903 to take a different path. The Women’s Social and Political Union or the “Suffragettes” used more disruptive tactics, including civil disobedience and arson. Emily Davison, from Sawbridgeworth, was one of the most daring and reckless of the militants, enduring repeated imprisonments and forced feeding. She became a martyr to the cause by throwing herself in front of the Kings Horse during the 1913 Derby.

100 years on, let’s celebrate what the women’s suffrage movement achieved. However, we should not kid ourselves that because women have the vote, they have equal citizenship. Women still earn 81p for every £1 earned by men, less than 30% of our MP’s are women and violence against women remains a stain upon society. We still need to speak up for equality because everybody benefits – even men.

A piece by a local Liberal Democrat campaigner, David Payne

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