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Story published September 2010

Women's suffrage badge in the Museum of London collection, Object ID: MoL_77.166/3, Image © Museum of London

The Women's Suffrage Movement


Introduction

The history of the women's suffrage movement is a complex and colourful one which can be told through the histories of the buildings, public spaces and sites that were associated with the cause. This article highlights the records of many such aspects of our historic environment, bringing to light the stories of the individuals and societies who dedicated their lives to winning electoral equality with men.


History of the movement 

The women's suffrage campaign was a public and political struggle fought by determined women all around the country for more than sixty years. Finally achieved in 1928, it was a cause for which more than one thousand women went to prison as a result their acts of protest. Many of those also endured hunger-strikes and the atrocity of force-feeding which could seriously undermine their health.

The history of the women’s suffrage movement, however, is often overshadowed by the spectacle of the militant campaign fought by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Their undertaking of window-smashing and arson sprees as well as the clever marketing generated by their in-house propaganda machine ensured that their campaign was always visible and often shocking.

Holloway Prison, London - where suffragettes were imprisoned for their involvement in militant protests
© Crown copyright.NMR Reference number: BB70/10224



Less well known, however, are the campaigns fought by many other groups whose ideology and approach to campaigning was markedly different to the WSPU. Personalities and political affiliations dictated the policy direction of groups’ campaigns and often led to societies splitting and new ones forming. By the early 20th century, different religious groups were establishing their own campaigns and groups of men formed lobby groups in support of women’s suffrage. Others took a less orthodox approach, like the Women’s Silent Co-operation for Freedom. They believed that the vote would be won through “the power of concentrated thought” rather than “outward demonstration.”

Victory in the women’s suffrage campaign was not won through any single act but by the momentum built up by a campaign which engaged women, as well as men, across society.


Explore the records
 

Here you can find records of nearly 100 sites associated with the women's suffrage movement. Click on the links and discover more.
Read about:
• Offices, shops and meeting places
• Sites of protest
• Prisons and places of recovery
• Memorials and other sites of association


See also the main English Heritage website and the Exploring 20th Century website for further stories of the women’s suffrage movement. The latter features photographs and objects from the Museum of London which further illustrate the women’s suffrage story and which relate to some of the buildings below.





The Pankhurst Centre, 62 Nelson Street, Manchester - first meeting place of the WSPU
IoE number: 388346 © Mr Martin Malies. Source English Heritage.NMR

 

Offices, shops and meeting places
The offices of suffrage societies ranged from those which were run from private homes, like those of the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage, to official London headquarters established by the WSPU and others. Other meeting places included tea shops, such as one in the Strand in London where the “Young Hot Bloods” held meetings. They were a secretive group of women under the age of 30, all of whom were members of the WSPU.

From 1909, the WSPU began opening “Votes for Women” shops where they sold a range of campaign merchandise in their trademark colours of white, purple and green. They also often operated as meeting places and a base for a branch’s administrative functions. In May 1909 the WSPU held a bazaar at the Prince’s Skating Rink in Knightsbridge called the Women’s Exhibition. With campaign merchandise on sale as well as the more traditional bazaar fare, it was an opportunity to raise funds and, in particular, to generate a more favourable public image.

The English Woman's Journal and the Langham Place Group
Office of the English Woman's Journal 1859-

London National Society for Women's Suffrage
Office 1867-71
First public meeting 17 July 1869
Office 1871-72
Office 1872-77

Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage
Office 1868-87
Office 1887-97

Women's Franchise League
Inaugural meeting 25 July 1889

North of England Society for Women's Suffrage
Office 1897-1908
Office 1908-11

Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage

Office 1871-72
Office 1872-74
Office 1874
Office 1875
Office 1885-88
Office 1889-97

Central National Society for Women's Suffrage
Office 1888-95
Office 1896-97

Central and Western Society for Women's Suffrage
Office 1897

Central and East of England Society for Women's Suffrage
Office 1898-1900

National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies
Headquarters 1898
Headquarters 1900
Headquarters 1900-03
Headquarters 1903-10
Headquarters 1910
Headquarters 1911-17
Headquarters 1918

Birmingham Society for Women's Suffrage
Office 1877
Office 1908-10

Bristol and West of England Society for Women's Suffrage
Office 1873
Office 1876
Office 1880
Office 1905
Office and shop 1909-10
Office and shop 1911-13
Office 1913

Women's Social and Political Union
Home of Emmeline Pankhurst and headquarters 1903-6
Headquarters 1906
Headquarters 1906-12
Shop, Kensington branch 1909
'The Woman's Press' - office and shop 1910-12
Shop, Reading branch 1910
Shop, Bristol branch 1908-09
Shop, Bristol branch 1909-13
Shop, East London branch 1912
Headquarters 1913-17
Headquarters of the East London Federation of the WSPU 1913-14

Women's Freedom League
Headquarters 1907-08
Headquarters 1908-15
Headquarters 1915-61

London Society for Women's Suffrage
Office 1907-10
Office 1910

Men's League for Women's Suffrage 
Headquarters 1908
Headquarters 1910
Headquarters 1913, 1916

Artist's Suffrage League
Studio 1913
Studio 1917

Suffrage Atelier
Office 1910-12
Studio 1910-12

Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile and Other Workers’ Representation Committee
Office 1913

Nottingham Women's Suffrage Society
Office 1912-13

Leeds Women's Suffrage Society
Office 1913

Federated Council of Suffrage Societies
Headquarters 1913
Headquarters 1914

Jewish League for Women's Suffrage
Headquarters 1913, 1917

Church League for Women's Suffrage
Headquarters 1913
Headquarters 1914, 1917

Men's Political Union for Women's Enfranchisement
Headquarters 1913

National Industrial and Professional Women's Suffrage Society
London office 1913
Manchester office 1913

East London Federation of Suffragettes
Headquarters 1914

Women's Silent Cooperation for Freedom
Official address 1913

National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship
Office 1923-31




St Stephen's Hall, Palace of Westminster, London - scene of suffragette protests
Reference number: CC97/00530 Reproduced by permission of English Heritage.NMR

 

Sites of protest

Public spaces such as Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park were the sites of numerous rallies and demonstrations involving many of the suffrage societies.  Supporters crowded into the public meetings at the Albert Hall and following women’s partial enfranchisement in 1918, the Queen’s Hall hosted the victory celebrations. Scenes of more dramatic protests took place at No. 10 Downing Street and St Stephen’s Hall however the Old Grammar School in King’s Norton narrowly escaped damage by two suffragettes who were charmed by its beauty.

First public meeting of the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage and the first act of militancy in the suffrage campaign 
'Grand Demonstration' held on 4 November 1880 in Bristol for the campaign for women's suffrage
The theatre which staged the play 'Votes for Women!' in 1907
Epsom Downs Racecourse - where suffragette Emily Davison died during a protest
The theatre which staged the first performance of 'Pageant of Great Women' in 1909




Eagle House, Batheaston - where hunger-striking suffragettes could recover after their release from prison
IoE number: 32156 © Mr Arthur A. Chapman. Source English Heritage.NMR

 

Prisons and places of recovery

The first suffragettes to be imprisoned for their acts of militancy suffered appalling conditions. In 1909 Marion Wallace-Dunlop carried out the first hunger-strike in protest of being held in a second division cell, rather than as a political prisoner in the first division. In Manchester Prison, Emily Davison barricaded the door to prevent prison officers force-feeding her during a hunger-strike. They responded by placing a hosepipe through the cell window, attempting to drown her, but eventually broke the door down before it flooded. In 1913, the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ enabled the release of a hunger-striker temporarily. While they should have been recaptured, in reality few attempts were made to re-arrest the ‘mice’.

Holloway Prison
Aylesbury Prison
Walton Prison
Horfield Prison
Eagle House




Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, Victoria Gardens, London
IoE number: 207426 © Miss Patricia Philpott. Source English Heritage.NMR


 

Memorials and other sites of association

A monument to those who endured prison for the cause of women’s suffrage stands in Christchurch Gardens, Victoria Road, London and there is a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, WSPU leader, in Victoria Gardens. Her grave is in Brompton Cemetery while that of another famous suffragette, Emily Davison, can be seen in the graveyard of the Church of St Mary in Morpeth, Northumberland.

Millicent Fawcett Hall - named after the famous women's suffrage campaigner
London home of Emmeline Pankhurst

Early home of Lydia Becker, women's suffrage leader
Former museum of the women's suffrage movement

Image on homepage: 'Votes for Women' scarf in the Museum of London collection, Object ID: MoL_53.51, Image © Museum of London