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Suffragette Movement

Votes for Women: A Timeline

'Votes for Women' - a timeline about the suffragette movement and WSPU, compiled by Lyn Haill for the National Theatre’s programme for Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play 'Her Naked Skin', Olivier Theatre, London 2008.

Also see for further information: Museum of London's website

Parliamentary Reform Act gives the vote to middle-class men in Britain, adding half a million to those already enfranchised, the landowners. The term ‘male person’ is included specifically in the wording, thus legally preventing women from voting in Parliamentary elections.

Second Reform Act gives the vote to about 2.5 million male householders, out of a total population of 22 million. John Stuart Mill, MP for Westminster, makes the first plea for women’s suffrage in Parliament.

The third Reform Act enfranchises 5 million men, about two thirds of the adult male population. For the first time, large numbers of working men can vote. Excluded are the poorest; servants living in their employers’ homes; criminals; and lunatics.

New Zealand is the first country to give women the right to vote. Australia follows nine years later.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett becomes leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage (NUWSS), the group founded by the merger of the National Central Society for Women’s Suffrage and the Central Committee, National Society for Women’s Suffrage.

Labour Representation Committee founded, secretary Keir Hardie – the foundation of the Labour Party.

Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) founded in Manchester by six women, including Emmeline and her daughter Christabel Pankhurst, who become its leaders. The organisation adopt the slogan "Deeds, not words".

Marie Curie becomes the first female winner of the Nobel prize for work on the discovery of radiation.

Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney arrested after the first militant incident at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester.

Liberals come to power after landslide victory in the General Election.
WSPU moves to London. Ten of its members arrested at the House of Commons.

First Women’s Parliament meets at Caxton Hall, London. Sixty women arrested at a demonstration at the House of Commons.

Three senior members, expelled from WSPU, form Women’s Freedom League (WFL), also militant, but democratic.

Votes for Women newspaper founded, joint editors Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence.

Two suffragettes chain themselves to the railings at 10 Downing Street.

February Suffragettes try to get into the House of Commons hidden in a furniture van – ‘the Trojan Horse incident’.

April HH Asquith takes over as PM after death of Henry Campbell Bannerman. He is strongly opposed to votes for women.

21 June WSPU holds Women’s Sunday in Hyde Park. 250,000 attend.

Mary Leigh and Edith New, acting independently, smash the windows of 10 Downing Street, and are sentenced to two months in Holloway.

Cicely Hamilton and Bessie Hatton found the Women Writers’ Suffrage League, which grows to around 400 members, produces campaigning literature and recruits many prominent male supporters.

Keir Hardie resigns as leader of the Labour Party and spends the rest of his life campaigning for votes for women.

A two-week event, The Women’s Exhibition,is held at Princes’ Skating Rink, Knightsbridge.

Asquith repeatedly refuses to see deputations from the suffragettes; government office windows are smashed.

July The sculptor Marjorie Wallace Dunlop
goes on the first hunger strike in protest at the treatment of suffragettes in prison. Her strike lasts 92 days.

September It is confirmed in the House of Commons that suffragette prisoners on hunger strike are being force-fed.

July: two huge demonstrations held in Hyde Park.

18 November ‘Black Friday’. A riot takes place outside the House of Commons. 119 women arrested. Home Secretary Winston Churchill orders charges against 100 of them to be dropped. Suffragettes mob ministers, leaving one Cabinet member confined to bed.

December Teresa Billington-Greig resigns from the WSPU, horrified by its renewal of militancy.

In Norway, Anna Rogstadt takes her seat as her country’s first woman member of parliament. Female suffrage adopted in Portugal.

Ethel Smyth (music) and Cecily Hamilton (words) write ‘The March of the Women’, which becomes the anthem of the suffragette movement. Ethel Smyth is later imprisoned in Holloway for smashing windows. Thomas Beecham, visiting her there, finds her leaning out of a window, conducting with a toothbrush the women in the quadrangle below who are singing the anthem.

17 June 50,000 supporters of enfranchisement of women, in a five-mile long procession, march through London. One group of 700
display silver arrows as a mark that they have been imprisoned for the cause. Their banner reads ‘From prison to citizenship’.

November More than 200 women and a few men are arrested in riots outside Parliament; windows in government buildings are smashed. Window-smashing is now official WSPU policy.

"When women are being knocked about, men do nothing. But when £5 of plate glass is broken, it’s thought to be serious." (Christabel Pankhurst, to a rally at the Savoy Theatre)

Public opinion alienated by the firing and bombing of churches, private houses and public amenities.

March 1 Suffragettes strike simultaneously all over the West End, causing thousands of pounds’ worth of damage. The suffragettes’ anger has been fuelled by the government’s readiness to make concessions to the miners, who recently took militant action.

There are 102 suffragettes in prison; 90 of these are being forcibly fed. Christabel Pankhurst initiates a ‘secret arson campaign’.

18 October Mrs Pankhurst declares, in a speech at the Albert Hall, "I incite this meeting to rebellion."

Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence denounce the increased violence advocated by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, and are expelled from the WSPU.

"Mr and Mrs Lawrence… questioned the wisdom of militancy which might mean the loss of life. To question policy with Christabel meant everything. Once people questioned policy her whole feeling changed toward them." (Annie Kenney)

Sylvia Pankhurst, Christabel’s sister, deplores the expulsion of the Pethick-Lawrences. She launches a mass campaign in the East End of London, leading to the autonomous East London Federation of Suffragettes.

A new paper, The Suffragette, is started.

Golf greens are attacked with acid, post-boxes set on fire, telephone wires cut and buildings defaced, empty houses and unattended buildings are sought out and set on fire. Targets are chosen to avoid loss of life.

Emmeline Pankhurst is tried on bomb charges relating to an attack on Lloyd George’s villa in Surrey; found guilty, she is sentenced to three years in prison.

April ‘The Cat and Mouse Act’ passed. Hunger-striking prisoners are released until they grow strong again, then

June Emily Wilding Davison tries to stop the King’s horse at the Derby and dies two days later as a result of her injuries. A vast procession follows her coffin from Victoria to King’s Cross.

The WSPU is now unwilling to allow men to be involved in its affairs, or to work with any organization that includes men.

The NUWSS organise a Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage, peaceful marchers coming from all over England to gather in a mass-meeting in Hyde Park.

Sylvia Pankhurst is expelled from the WSPU because her sister Christabel disapproves of her East London Federation of Suffragettes.

Mary Richardson sentenced to 18 months with hard labour for damaging Velazquez’s ‘Rokeby Venus’ at the National Gallery:

"I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history in protest at the government’s destruction of Miss Pankhurst, the most beautiful character in modern history."

Attacks on several other works of art follow.

57 protesters arrested as they attempt to reach Buckingham Palace to present a ‘Votes for Women’ petition to the King. So far, more than 2,000 petitions, with over a million names, have been presented to Parliament.

"Our right as women to be heard and to be aided by Your Majesty is far stronger than any such right possessed by men, because it is based upon our lack of every other constitutional means of securing the redress of our grievances." (Emmeline Pankhurst)

Sylvia Pankhurst arrested for the eighth time while on a march.

June The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo leads to start of World War I. The suffragettes effectively put their campaign on hold and, as men are sent to war, women prove indispensable in factories and farming.

House of Commons vote by 330 majority to give the vote to wives over 30.

11 January Votes for Women passed by UK Parliament, granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who are householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5, and graduates of British universities.

House of Commons vote by 274 to 25 to allow women to become MPs.

11 November Armistice signed, ending the war. UK has suffered over three million war casualties, including nearly a million dead.

28 December General election. Out of over 1600 candidates, 17 are women. The only one elected – Countess Markievicz as Sinn =Fein candidate for a Dublin seat – has said it is against her principles to swear allegiance to the King and so cannot attend Parliament.

Nancy Astor is elected Britain’s first woman MP, holding a safe Plymouth seat for the Tories. Women vote for the first time in French general election.

The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act lowers the voting age for women to 21, the same as that for men.

With the voting age for women lowered to 21,six million more votes are cast in the general election than in 1924. This is thought to have helped edge Labour ahead.

White women in South Africa given the vote for the first time. Amy Johnson is the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia.

Nazis in Germany announce that they plan to abolish women’s suffrage.

The age limit for voting in Britain is lowered to 18.


TIMELINE compiled by Lyn Haill for the National Theatre’s programme for Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s play Her Naked Skin, Olivier Theatre, 2008. Books quoted and consulted include Shoulder to Shoulder – A Documentary by Midge Mackenzie, Vintage Books 1988; The Suffragettes in Pictures by Diane Atkinson, Sutton Publishing 1996; The Women’s Suffrage Movement, A Reference Guide 1866-1928 by Elizabeth Crawford, Routledge 1999; Votes for Women, The Virago Book of Suffragettes, ed. Joyce Marlow, Virago 2006, Votes for Women 1860-1928 by Paula Bartley, Hodder & Stoughton 2007; The British Women’s Suffrage Campaign 1866-1928 by Harold L Smith, Longman 1998.


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