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

Source 1

Comments on Suffragette disturbances 1905


 CHAR 4/4/21-22, images 34-37

Simplified Transcript

Dear Sir

Thank you for your letter of October 28th telling me about you resolution passed in favour of women’s suffrage and the conduct of Miss Pankhurst and Miss Kenney. With regard to the disturbances at the Free Trade Hall, my view is that the chairman should be able to set the agenda and attempts to change this by forcing other questions to be discussed is undemocratic.

Large public meetings are one of the greatest aspects of British democracy. If men disrupt them it is easy to throw them out. With women it is not acceptable to use force. However, this in turn should mean that women should be restrained if they want to enjoy protection.

I do not know what happened outside the Free Trade Hall as I did not see but I do not accept your claim that they were treated roughly.

The whole event is very regrettable. I cannot believe that it will help the cause that these committed and brave ladies support.

Lastly, I think it is very unfair that Sir Edward Grey has been attacked as he has been a lifelong supporter of women’s suffrage.

Original Transcript

Oct. 30th 1905.

My dear Sir,

I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 28th instant, containing two resolutions which have been passed at Oldham on October 26th, with regard to Women’s Suffrage, and the conduct of Miss Kenney and Miss Pankhurst. With reference to the disturbance at the Free Trade Hall,

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I must point out to you that the organisers of any meeting are entitled as leasees of the hall to prescribe the Order of Business and the Agenda. Unless questions are invited, it is disorderly to persist in putting them. To throw great public meetings into confusion, and to disregard the Chairman cannot be defended on democratic grounds.
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The power of conducting orderly discussions in very large gatherings is one of the most valuable possessions of the British people. With men who disturb such meetings, it is easy to deal; but it is repugnant to anyone that any degree of physical force should ever be applied to women. But if sex confers protection, it should also I think enjoin

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With regard to what took place outside the Free Trade Hall, I know nothing for I did not see it; but I cannot agree with your resolution that Miss Pankhurst and Miss Kenney were subjected to any ill-usage while being removed from the building.

The whole episode is regrettable from every point of view. I cannot believe that it

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will materially enhance the cause of which these ladies are such earnest and courageous advocates.

I am sorry that a high spirited girl bearing a well-known and respected name should have lost her self-control. Lastly, I regret that Sir Edward Grey a life-long and active supporter of the cause of Women’s Suffrage, should

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become the object of attacks which he had done nothing to deserve.

Yours faithfully,
Winston S. Churchill

What is this source?

This is a copy of a letter sent by Churchill replying to a letter he had received from a supporter of women’s suffrage in October 1905. We do not know exactly who Churchill was writing to but it was probably a senior official of one of the suffrage societies in Oldham, near Manchester. Churchill was the MP for Oldham.

Background to this source

The source is commenting on what became a very famous event in the history of the suffrage movement. In October 1905 Emmeline Pankhurst and Annie Kenney disrupted a Liberal Party meeting in the Manchester Free Trade Hall by continuously asking what the Liberal plans were to introduce women’s suffrage. This was not on the meeting agenda.

Pankhurst and Kenney were both arrested and imprisoned for several days for assault and obstruction for their treatment of the leading Liberal Sir Edward Grey.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can help us to assess the impact of the Suffragettes. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. What does Churchill say about public meetings?
  2. What is Churchill’s view on how women should behave?
  3. Does Churchill think Pankhurst and Kenney were treated reasonably?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
Churchill disapproved of the actions of Kenney and Pankhurst

Churchill had very traditional attitudes towards the role of women

This event gained publicity for the suffrage cause

This event damaged the suffrage cause

The suffragettes are making it impossible for powerful people to ignore them.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • At the time of this source there had been many attempts to get a female suffrage Bill through Parliament and all had failed.
  • The Conservative Party was still in power at this point. Churchill was a Liberal politician at this time: the women were lobbying the Liberals because the Conservatives were generally opposed to women’s suffrage and also there was an election coming up and it seemed likely that the Liberals would win and form the next government.

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