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History

Women's suffrage movement

The suffragettes

The suffragettes, a name given to them by the newspaper The Daily Mail, were born out of the suffragist movement. Emmeline Pankhurst, who had been a member of the Manchester suffragist group, had grown impatient with the middle class, respectable, gradualist tactics of the NUWSS. In 1903 she decided to break with the NUWSS and set up a separate society. This became known as the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).

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Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested.

Watch our motion comic animation about the role Emmeline Pankhurst played in the suffrage movement.

Mrs Pankhurst believed it would take an active organisation, with young working class women, to draw attention to the cause. The motto of the suffragettes was deeds not words and from 1912 onwards they became more militant and violent in their methods of campaign. Law-breaking, violence and hunger strikes all became part of this society's campaign tactics.

In 1907 the Women's Social and Political Union itself split into two groups after Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel came into conflict with other members of the WSPU's executive body. Those who left formed the Women's Freedom League, while the Pankhursts and their supporters established an even tighter grip on the workings of the WSPU.

The three groups disagreed over tactics but their message was consistent and they regularly worked together. Despite opposition, the argument for women's suffrage seemed to be winning support. By 1909 the WSPU had branches all over the country and published a newspaper called Votes for Women which sold 20,000 copies each week. The NUWSS was also flourishing, with a rising membership and an efficient nation-wide organisation.

The rough treatment of many suffragettes arrested and jailed during the course of their protests also won the suffrage cause increasing sympathy and support from the public. The commendable behaviour of the suffrage movement during the war - suspending their protests for the sake of national unity - also proved that the women were far from unreasonable.

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