Did the Suffragettes help or harm the cause of women’s suffrage?

A suffragette campaigning for the vote is forcibly restrained by policemen. (Photo by Manchester Daily Express/Getty images)

In the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries one of the most high profile political questions concerned whether or not women should get the vote. Women had been campaigning for the vote from the mid-1800s or even earlier. By the 1890s there was an extensive network of local societies campaigning to get the vote for women. In 1897 these societies united under one banner, the National Union of Women Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The NUWSS were often referred to as the Suffragists. They believed in constitutional, law-abiding methods of campaigning. This distinguished them from the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union, or Suffragettes (although confusingly politicians and newspapers sometimes referred to the Suffragettes as ‘Militant Suffragists’). Both wings of the movement campaigned with enormous energy and commitment but it was the militant Suffragettes who generally hit the headlines with their direct actions, ranging from the disruption of political meetings to attacks on government ministers and even arson.

It is also the militant Suffragettes who are generally remembered and they have gained the reputation as the main campaigners for the cause of female suffrage. But is that how it was seen at the time? And is that impression fair?

Your challenge

We have a box of sources from the Churchill Archive for you to investigate. We cannot cover all aspects of this story so we have selected sources from a short period, 1905-12.

  • Your challenge is to study the sources in the Source Box and see what they reveal about the impact the Suffragettes had on opinions about the vote.
  • Your teacher will be able to help you with a recording framework and suggestions on how to present your work.