Monday, 19 May 2014

The suffragettes in pictures

The suffragettes in pictures by Diane Atkinson.

An amazing book and quite traumatic to read.

The  book is full of photos of the suffragettes - a fascinating insight into their campaign. The organisational achievements are truly impressive and the inventiveness of the campaign inspiring. the massive rallies before the use of public address systems and loud speakers is astonishing.

The text doesn't hold back from high lighting the splits that hit the movement and the change from militant tactics to arson attacks on houses, letter boxes and other places that served mainly to alienate support for the cause of votes for women.  It is dreadful to think of the suffering endured by women who endured hunger strikes and force feeding often shortening their lives and giving them permanent injuries and health problems. More dreadful still to think of the apathy towards voting expressed by some women today.

It is quite melancholy feeling to see how they plainly had right on their side but were essentially unsuccessful in their aims until the first world war undermined most of the arguments against women suffrage and more importantly changed attitudes towards women.

The whole episode was a shameful chapter in the history of the Liberal Party - and Asquith in particular with his opposition to woman's suffrage caused immense long-term harm to the Liberal Party.  In their defence - of perhaps which more in another post - it is often forgotten that plenty of men did not have the vote and the Liberals didn't have a majority in the House of Commons. let alone the House of Lords to secure  votes for women.  The political tactics of the suffragettes also seem somewhat counter productive - harassing Cabinet Ministers although understandable is perhaps poor psychology if you wish to win people over. Also supporting Conservatives in by-elections who opposed votes for women even if the Liberal candidate supported votes for women didn't make much political sense.

After votes for some women was achieved in 1918 - it seems people forgot what the fuss was about and it was soon extended to all women over 21 in 1928. The leading suffragettes all went separate ways - some like Emmeline Pankhurst became Conservative candidates for Parliament, some Labour some gave up politics, and some just suffered from ill health and went to an early grave.

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