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

Source 3

The editor of the Manchester Guardian newspaper about the treatment of Suffragette prisoners March 1910


 CHAR 12/2/14

Simplified Transcript

Dear Churchill

I wanted to send a personal note to thank you for your decision about the Suffragette prisoners. I think your decision is common sense but it still took courage as well as sense to make it. I think courage is an important political virtue. I am deeply troubled about the whole political situation and the moment and I wonder if I could meet with you soon?

Yours sincerely
Charles Scott

Original Transcript

The Guardian Office

March 1910
Dear Churchill,

I want to send a line personally of thanks for your decision about the treatment of the suffragettes & similar persons. It strikes one as just common sense but it needed courage as well as sense. More & more one comes to think that courage is the first & the last of political virtues. I am deeply concerned as to the political outlook-so far as one can

[page break]

see we are going straight to a catastrophe & a quite unnecessary one- I expect to be in London tomorrow & Friday (15 Nottingham Place, W) I wonder if I could see you.

Yours very sincerely
C. P. Scott

What is this source?

This is letter written by Charles Scott, the editor of the Manchester Guardian (which is now simply The Guardian) newspaper about the treatment of Suffragette prisoners in jail and Churchill’s introduction of Rule 243A. Churchill has written “Keep” at the top of the letter.

Background to this source

By 1910 Suffragette actions had become increasingly violent and high profile and many Suffragettes ended up in prison. This caused the authorities some difficulty. The Suffragettes claimed that they were First Class prisoners because their motivation was political. However, most prisons were classifying them as Second or Third Class prisoners – effectively ordinary criminals. In 1909 several Suffragettes went on hunger strike to protest at this. The authorities responded by force feeding them leading to harsh treatment, some injuries and much sympathy for the Suffragettes. Churchill was Home Secretary by this time and tried to defuse the situation by relaxing the rules governing the treatment of suffragettes in prison. Churchill had great sympathy for prisoners, partly coloured by his own experiences as a prisoner of war in South Africa. His changes effectively allowed prison authorities to treat Suffragette prisoners as First Class prisoners. Churchill announced these changes to the House of Commons on 15 March.

Not everyone approved of Churchill’s measure but it did succeed in taking some of the tension out of the situation. The Suffragettes were very effective campaigners and they made powerful use of the hunger strikes to gain sympathy for their cause.

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. Does Scott approve of what Churchill has done?
  2. In what ways does he praise Churchill?
  3. What worries does Scott have?
  4. This is a letter sent to Churchill. But can you still tell anything about whether Churchill thought it was important?

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?
The writer approves of Churchill’s changes.

The writer thinks that it was easy for Churchill to make changes to the treatment of prisoners.

The Suffragettes are making life uncomfortable for powerful figures in the country.

The Suffragettes are damaging their own cause.

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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 WSPU’s main complaint was the Parliament was not treating female suffrage seriously enough. Their aim was to make it impossible to ignore the issue of votes for women.
  • Militant action began in 1905 and by 1910 had escalated. One of the most common forms of protest was window smashing. This would normally have been regarded as simple vandalism and not a political act.

 Source 4

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