Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_cause of women su

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

Source 7

Copy of a letter from Churchill expressing thanks for the gift of a stick October 1912


 CHAR 28/117/100

Simplified Transcript

My Dear Northcliffe

Thank you for the beautiful stick.

Strangely I was given a heavy blackthorn stick last week to defend myself from the Orangemen. Yours is lighter so obviously to defend against Suffragettes.

Thank you for your positive articles about Lloyd George and the Admiralty. Your newspapers have been very fair all year. When are we going to meet to play golf?

Yours sincerely

PS When would you like a trip in a submarine?

Original Transcript

THE ADMIRALTY, WHITEHALL, S.W.                                                                  15th October, 1912.

My Dear Northcliffe,

It is indeed kind of you to send me such a beautiful and sumptuous stick. It is just the kind I like.

Oddly enough only last week I was given another stick – a black thorn – for use against the Orangemen. But I note that yours is a milder form of weapon and to be applied to the Suffragettes!

I was so glad to see your reference to L.G. at the Journalists’ Banquet. Really your papers have been very good to me and very fair to the Admiralty all this year. When are we going to meet? My wife and I would like some golf, Walton Heath is my favourite.

Yours very sincerely,

P.S. When do you want me to take you down in a submarine?


What is this source?

This is a copy of a letter written by Churchill in 1912 while he was First Lord of the Admiralty, in charge of the Royal Navy. He was writing to Lord Northcliffe, a newspaper owner who was one of the most powerful and influential figures in England.

Background to this source

At the time of this letter women’s suffrage was only one of the major issues facing the Liberal government at this time. Ireland (then part of the United Kingdom) was very troubled, and the Liberals had promised a measure of Home Rule as a solution. This was bitterly opposed by Protestants, especially in the province of Ulster (the Orangemen). At the same time Suffragette activities remained high profile and regular. One common form of protest by suffragettes was attacking a government minister. Churchill himself had been attacked in 1909. Asquith was also attacked and in 1913 Lloyd George’s home was fire bombed.

Northcliffe was a close friend of Churchill and had been since the 1890s. Northcliffe was a press baron who owned The Daily Mail, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Observer and many other smaller newspapers as well. As such he had a powerful influence on public opinion. Northcliffe’s newspapers were highly critical of the Suffragettes and argued regularly that their militant tactics proved that women were not suited to the responsibility of voting.

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 has Northcliffe sent Churchill and why?
  2. What is Churchill suggesting to Northcliffe?
  3. Why would Churchill offer to take Northcliffe in a submarine?

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 and Northcliffe are good friends.

Lord Northcliffe’s newspaper were very hostile to the suffragettes which proves that Churchill was as well.

Churchill and Northcliffe take the suffragettes very seriously.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • There are several key points here. Northcliffe owned several important newspapers and they were all hostile to the suffragettes. This raises the question of whether the Suffragette action has had much impact on either Northcliffe or Churchill.
  • The tone of this letter is the key, and it could be interpreted in different ways. Is the tone just generally light hearted or is it light hearted about the suffragettes? Or indeed it could be that the references to sticks and protection are evidence that the Suffragette activities are serious and harmful.
  • Churchill was the government minister in charge of the Royal Navy. This letter shows Churchill’s blurring the lines between his public position and his personal friendship with Northcliffe in the reference to playing golf and going for a joyride in a submarine.

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