No, don't go jumping under any horses. Read this for some practical lessons from the suffrage movement that could benefit us all. Because what's history for if not to learn from?
It's insane to think how relatively recent it was that women were having to fight not to be treated like second-class citizens. During their struggle, the women of the suffrage movement stuck to their principles and wouldn't be silenced. These original feminists were a seriously impressive bunch of ladies, and here are just a few of the things we can all learn from them.
1. Don't Hang About
If something's really worth doing, it's worth doing now. Not tomorrow, not later, now. It's a mantra that applies to most things in life, let alone addressing gross civil inequalities. The Grand Duchy of Finland led the global charge on this one, and helped her country become the first in Europe to introduce women's suffrage in 1906, resulting in the world's first ever female MPs following the next year's elections.
Lichtenstein, on the other hand, didn't grant women's suffrage until 1984. That's right, 1984! We don't know an awful lot about this German micro-state, but that's certainly not a fact it should be proud of.
2. A Good Defence is Your Best Offence
We're huge fans of Edith Garrud. This fabulous woman was heavily involved in the Votes for Women movement and as one of the first ever female martial arts instructors she took it upon herself to teach jiu-jitsu to the suffragettes. Suddenly, policemen that weren't expecting dainty ladies to fight back had to content with female protesters who knew how to use the policemen's own strength against them. The video above tells her story (apologies for the quality, it's the best we could find). And while we are in no way advocating the use of violence to achieve your aims, the bravery to physically stand their ground has often been attributed to the success of the suffrage movement.
At a speech by a member of the new Liberal government, Viscount Edward Grey, suffragettes Cristabel Pankhurst and Annie Kelly shouted, “Will the Liberal Government give votes to women?" so loudly and incessantly police were called to remove them. The resulting struggle led to them being arrested and charged for assault. Both women refused to pay the fine and were imprisoned, a dramatic turn of events attributed with rekindling public interest in the movement.
3. When the Going Gets Tough, Get Tougher
As the suffragettes' aggression increased, so did efforts to quell their activity. When suffragettes started chaining themselves to railings, pouring chemicals into post boxes, and breaking windows in a bid to seize attention, the police stepped up their response. Women were dragged away kicking and screaming. These public displays of violence towards the 'fairer' sex painted the police as villains, while the suffragette's resistance to it challenged the traditional caricature of the meek, bed-making housewife that some thought had no need of a vote, let alone deserved the right to one.
4. Check Your Privilege
It's fairly well-known suffragettes on hunger strike in prison suffered brutal force-feeding. Perhaps less familiar is that a suffragette's class informed the treatment they received. Lady Constance Lytton, an aristocrat, was handled with relative humanity during her incarcerations due to her fame and rank, and was spared force-feeding following a medical examination that revealed her heart was too weak to take the stress.
Suspecting she'd received preferential treatment, Lady Constance disguised herself as a seamstress for a protest in Liverpool. When she was arrested again, as a 'commoner', no medical examination was performed.
Here's an extract from her account of what followed:
'He said if I resisted so much with my teeth, he would have to feed me through the nose. The pain of it was intense and at last I must have given way for he got the gag between my teeth, when he proceeded to turn it much more than necessary until my jaws were fastened wide apart, far more than they could go naturally.
Then he put down my throat a tube which seemed to me much too wide and was something like four feet in length. The irritation of the tube was excessive. I choked the moment it touched my throat until it had got down.
Then the food was poured in quickly; it made me sick a few seconds after it was down and the action of the sickness made my body and legs double up, but the wardresses instantly pressed back my head and the doctor leant on my knees. The horror of it was more than I can describe.
I was sick over the doctor and wardresses, and it seemed a long time before they took the tube out. As the doctor left he gave me a slap on the cheek, not violently, but, as it were, to express his contemptuous disapproval, and he seemed to take for granted that my distress was assumed... Before long I heard the sounds of the forced feeding in the next cell to mine. It was almost more than I could bear, it was Elsie Howey, I was sure.'
By highlighting this inequality, Lady Constance got the upper classes discussing the struggles of the suffrage movement. It was now acceptable dinner-party talk rather than an extreme political movement to be avoided. Like Lady Constance, if you are lucky enough to have privilege, put it to one side if you want to achieve anything truly meaningful.
5. Shallow People Are THE WORST
Lady Constance also noted that she received worse treatment in prison when she was “ugly", and reported that when she cut her hair short and disguised her features, she experience an immediate difference in the reaction of the authorities.
This one's less of a lesson and more of an observation, but it leads nicely into our final point...
6. Never Give Up
Lady Constance's heartbreaking account of the force-feeding ends:
'When the ghastly process was over and all quiet, I tapped on the wall and called out at the top of my voice, which wasn't much just then, "No surrender," and there came the answer past any doubt in Elsie's voice, "No surrender"'
Women's suffrage was granted in 1918, with the Representation of the People Act. This didn't apply to all women, just those over the age of 30 who were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register. In 1928, a decade later, women gained equal voting rights to men, meaning that all women over the age of 21 were eligible to vote. Without the determination and resilience of some remarkable women, the world today would likely be a very different place.
Was your ancestor involved in the Votes for Women campaign? Tell us about them: firstname.lastname@example.org