After the 1867 ‘Reform Act’, which gave working men the vote, a few local campaign groups began to form; using gentle methods to gain support from town councils and regional communities. Several national organisations were also created to raise awareness for women’s suffrage. Societies such as the Primrose League and the Women’s Liberal Foundation organised many meetings and presented large petitions to parliament. The year 1897 brought around the culmination of small, regional campaign groups into a nationwide organisation.
This group was founded under the power of Millicent Garret Fawcett and was called the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). With more than fifty thousand members to fight for one cause, the newly-formed NUWSS looked set to conquer over defiant minds in parliament. The main aim of the NUWSS was to gain a vote for women by using passive methods. Six years after the formation of this organisation many women were feeling that the results promised by Millicent Fawcett were becoming too much of a distant target.
In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst set about demanding the vote by more vocal means. There was to be an election in 1905/1906 meaning candidates were in need of persuading. Thus heralded the arrival of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). At the start of their tireless campaign, members of the WSPU were almost working in unison with those from the NUWSS; in terms of methods the two were not at all dissimilar. Many marches were organised in aid of women’s suffrage and opinions were expressed through letters and articles made by both groups.
In these early years of campaigning the NUWSS approved and respected the work that was being done by the WSPU and felt that they were helping to accelerate the process of getting the vote. After 1906 the WSPU started to widen their range of activities. The Liberal Government did not seem to be proposing a bill for a female vote. Between 1906 and 1909 members of the WSPU chained themselves to railings in Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, trying to make their message reach the ears of all.
Stone throwing quickly became a method that was adopted by campaigners against 10 Downing Street. From a public point of view the NUWSS seemed to turn a blind eye towards this new breed of protest, they started to see the hard work that had been done in the past was now beginning to be overshadowed by the attention-seeking protests of the WSPU. In July 1909, Marion Dunlop-Wallace was sent to prison and became the first suffragette to use hunger-strike methods. The WSPU adopted this tactic because refusing to eat would mean being freed before the sentence ended.
The Government quickly became wise towards the prisoners and introduced force-feeding for uncooperative inmates. An election in 1910 promised hope for both the WSPU and NUWSS, a bill trying to give some women the vote started to make progress within parliament but eventually got ‘lost’ in procedures. As a result the violence from the WSPU was stepped up. The woman fighting for the vote now started to pour paraffin in letterboxes, creating havoc when lit. Christabel Pankhurst now moved to Paris so that she could organise the campaign from safety.
Now that the WSPU’s campaign had been raging for nine years many women felt the need to increase their influence upon the population. The new campaign went to extreme lengths to get the point across to members of parliament and the general public. Members of the WSPU burned slogans into golf courses with acid and set fire to train stations in aid of their cause. A now famous event happened on June the 4th 1913 when Emily Wilding Davison ran in front of the King’s horse at the Derby and was killed. This made her a martyr and an example for all Suffragettes to follow.
Apart from all of this violence the WSPU still continued it’s campaign using peaceful methods such as organised discussions and the writing of leaflets. At this point a split starts to form between the WSPU and the NUWSS due to the violent nature of the Suffragette campaign, members of the NUWSS that previously respected the work of the Suffragettes now condemned them on the basis that they were not helping the cause. With the violent protests from the WSPU now reaching a climax major ruptures within the organisation began to form.
The Pethick-Lawrences who had been a great help in past years by funding the group’s activities now left because they felt that the WSPU were now reaching the stage of being terrorists. Without the financial backing that they once had many women decided to also leave, joining more traditional campaign groups with passive methods. Although the mutinies got in the way of progress the WSPU carried on regardless of the doubters and continued their fight until the beginning of the First World War.