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The Campaign for Women’s Suffrage in Britain
- June Purvis
This essay gives an overview of the campaign for the parliamentary vote for women in Britain from 1865 to 1928, focussing in particular on the ‘suffragists’ of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), formed in 1897, and the ‘suffragettes’ of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), established in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst and her eldest daughter Christabel, together with some local socialist women. The mixed sex NUWSS, led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, advocated legal, peaceful means of campaigning whereas the women-only WSPU, with its slogan ‘Deeds, not words’ engaged in more assertive, unladylike tactics such as heckling MPs, processions to parliament, hunger-striking when imprisoned and enduring the torture of forcible feeding. As the Liberal Government of the day refused to yield on the women’s question, the notorious WSPU even engaged, from 1912, in attacks on property. In 1918 certain categories of women aged thirty and over were granted the vote, equal parliamentary voting rights with men being finally won in 1928.