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Votes for Women

SUSAN B. ANTHONY (1820-1906)

Women, we might as well be dogs baying the moon as petitioners without the right to vote!

Women against Votes for Women

Many influential and even politically active women strongly opposed the idea of votes for women. Among the most vocal were the Women’s Anti-Suffrage League established in 1908, with over 100 branches in Britain. They argued that:
1) Women had no practical experience of the important matters of state such as banking, mining, shipping, diplomacy, construction, transport or the military, so they weren’t qualified to decide the government.

2) As Britain was the world superpower it couldn’t afford to take the risk of enfranchising people who didn’t understand the issues (unlike smaller nations which didn’t have the same responsibilities);

3) If women became politicised it might lead to domestic disharmony;

4) Since not all men had the vote, you’d have to impose similar (unfair) restrictions on women. If you gave the vote to all women, they would immediately comprise the overwhelming majority of voters.
After two years, the Women's Anti-Suffrage League merged with the Men’s League for Opposing Woman Suffrage to become the National League for Opposing Women's Suffrage. It was effectively a takeover by the men, with Lord Cromer, head of the Men’s League, chairing the new joint organization.


The first place to allow women to vote was the State of Wyoming in 1869.

The First Female Voters

Women in Britain over 30 got the vote in 1918, but they weren’t the first women to vote in Britain. In 1867, Lily Maxwell voted in a by-election in Manchester where regulations granted the right to all ratepayers, but overlooked the need to except women. Several more female property owners in Manchester followed suit, but the following year the loophole was plugged, and women’s suffrage was declared illegal.
The first country to allow women to vote was New Zealand in 1893. Australia was next in 1902, although aboriginal women were not eligible to vote until 1967, but then nor were aboriginal men.


Nothing would induce me to vote for giving women the franchise. 

Catherine Griffiths, the last surviving suffragette, placed tin-tacks on Lloyd George's seat, and was jailed for breaking into the House of Lords.

Divisions in the Ranks

The pro-suffrage movement was divided against itself.

The 'suffragists', established in 1897, believed in peaceful campaigning, persuasion and the Liberal party.
Emmeline Pankhurst’s 'suffragettes' established in 1903, favoured direct action (smashing windows, arson, hunger strikes, etc). Both groups only sought votes for property-owning women. This reduced support among socialists, who were against sexual discrimination but unwilling to campaign for even more votes for the middle classes.

Fighting Women

The leading suffragettes had a guard of 30 elitely trained women who acted as bodyguards to protect them from the police using jujutsu. They were taught by Edith Garrud.
Garrud was one of the western world’s first female martial arts teachers – her skills became crucial when the government passed their ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ in 1913 – which meant suffragettes on hunger strike were released but then rearrested once they were stronger. The bodyguard unit was set up to protect Emmeline Pankhurst and other leading suffragettes from the police.
Garrud also taught the bodyguard unit to use Indian clubs, which look like large bowling pins and are weighted at one end. The bodyguards hid them in their dresses and used them as weapons against the police. Garrud was only 4 ft 11 and lived to be 99. In 2012 Islington Council gave her a People’s Plaque at her house in Thornhill, London.
Indian clubs had been an exercise craze amongst the Victorians, and appeared in the 1904 and 1932 olympic gymnastics events.

The Slogan

'Votes for women', the slogan of the women's suffrage movement, was initially 'Will the Liberal Party Give Votes for Women?' on the original banner. However, that banner proved too big to carry, so the words had to be shortened to 'Votes for women'.

Suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst was a supporter of eugenics.

Emmeline Pankhurst's daughter was called Elizabeth Tudor.

Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Adela was a founding member of the Australian Communist Party, and then the fascist Australia First Party.