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

The sources have been carefully selected from the Churchill Archive to explore the question of the impact of militant campaignining by the Suffragettes in the period 1905-1912.  As a collection of  sources they can be used to build up a picture of thoughts and opinions on Woman’s suffrage. Teachers could ask students to work through the entire collection or get individuals or pairs or small groups to look at a smaller number of sources and then report back. However, it is probably better to try to get students to use all the sources if possible. This way they can move beyond the sources as a collection of individual documents and use them more in the way a historian would, as a collection of documents which illustrate the past more effectively as a collection.

With this basis in mind, students who have looked at the collection might then be challenged with tasks which extend their thinking and understanding. For example:

Activity 1: What effects did suffragette activity have?


You might ask students if the sources provide an answer to the question posed by this enquiry.

Source Suggest a generally positive response to Suffragette action Suggest a generally negative response to Suffragette action Reasons why the source is strong or weak evidence about this particular issue (eg date of source, typicality)
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British suffragette campaigns with a poster, giving out newspapers to passers-by. (Wikimedia Commons)

Activity 2: What kind of picture do we get about the Suffragettes from these sources?

Most of the sources in this investigation are letters. Students can sometimes fall into the trap of assuming that documents represent ‘the whole’ of the story rather than being part of the puzzle which historians have to piece together.  It might be useful to ask them to discuss the following assertions in groups:

  1. Letters definitely tell you about what is happening at the time
  2. Personal letters definitely tell you about what the letter writer thinks
  3. A letter can reveal information about the wider public
  4. Personal letters are useless as sources because they only tell you about one person.

If time permits, a really interesting and useful follow up exercise would be to select a file of constituency correspondence and ask students to work through it counting out how many letters condemn or support the Suffragettes.

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