What do you think?

Question

How reliable are the interpretations of women's suffrage?

Many histories of the 'fight for the vote' are romantic accounts which celebrate the heroes of the movement who won the vote. Two of these books were written by Emmeline Pankhurst (1914) and Christabel Pankhurst (1959) themselves. This means that the works are designed to celebrate the achievements of women and so sometimes allow sentimentality to overshadow historic fact.

A different approach was taken by Sylvia Pankhurst (1931). Sylvia portrayed her mother as bossy and unstable. For Sylvia, the vote was won in June 1914 by working class socialist women, led by her.

For George Dangerfield (1935) the Suffragettes were just one, small symptom of a wider set of problems that were changing Britain at the time. Dangerfield belittled the Suffragettes as 'hysterical'. This has been called the 'masculinist' approach.

Question

How have the traditional interpretations been revised?

Since 1970, revisionist writers have shifted attention from the Suffragettes to the ongoing, quieter, behind-the-scenes work of the Suffragists. They have showed that many Suffragette actions were not spontaneous acts by the rank and file at all, but the work of WSPU employees and paid militants, acting under orders.

Question

How significant was the struggle for the vote?

Recently, the 'New Women's History' movement has suggested that the struggle for the vote was not an important episode in women's history. They concentrate instead on issues such as the female experience of life and are much more interested in the 'unseen' role women played in developments, such as the rise of the Labour Party. Their belief is that these factors played a bigger role in helping women than the individual struggle for the vote. They think that the rise of the Labour Party and socialism would have eventually helped women to get the vote anyway.

Where next?

You can compare the Suffragettes' movement to other violent protests, such as the Peasants' Revolt and the Chartists.

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