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Remembering The Many Brave Women Who Sacrificed Themselves For Your Right To Vote

Remembering The Many Brave Women Who Sacrificed Themselves For Your Right To Vote

On Thursday, women across the nation will be heading to polling stations to vote in the general election.

Exercising our democratic right as citizens is something we all too often take for granted, but anyone who has heard of women's suffrage will know this has shockingly not always been the case.

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For the first time in 1918, (some) women were finally given the right to vote - but the journey to this point saw years of bitter struggle.

The suffragettes fought for our right to vote (Credit: PA)
The suffragettes fought for our right to vote (Credit: PA)

Suffragettes (the name coined for women leading the movement) were brave and ruthless in their mission - storming Parliament, heckling politicians, starting fires, smashing windows, going on hunger strikes, being force-fed, imprisoned and even dying for the the cause.

They were done with being treated with second class citizens, and we have everything to thank them for. Without these women, we simply would not be where we are today, polling card in hand.

Here's a brief history of the suffragette movement, and they key women who spearheaded it, were locked up for it, and died for our right to vote.

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1880s

By the end of the nineteenth century, women began fighting for their right to vote all around the world. In 1881, women who owned property gained the right to vote in the Isle of Man; by 1883 women in British colony of New Zealand were granted the right to vote; and in Australia, women slowly began to win the right to vote from 1894 to 1911.

Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women's Social and Political Union (Credit: Wikipedia)
Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women's Social and Political Union (Credit: Wikipedia)

1900s

By 1903, British women had still not gained the right to vote, so the British Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst.

The women-only movement focused on direct action and civil disobedience to attract attention to their cause, with their motto becoming "deeds not words".

There were different factions of suffragettes within the movement, with some breakout groups refusing to support more extreme action.

Women would chain themselves to railings, set fire to empty buildings and post boxes and set bombs. When they were arrested, many were sexually assaulted by police officers. Some were even imprisoned and ultimately died for their cause.

The suffragettes fought tirelessly for our right to vote (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The suffragettes fought tirelessly for our right to vote (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Marion Dunlop was one militant suffragette who was the first to refuse food when she was imprisoned in 1909. After a 92-hour hunger strike, she was released by officers who feared she'd become a martyr.

After this, hunger strikes were used widely by WSPU member who were in prisoned - but officials began using force feeding tactics - often with a four foot long tube down the throat - to keep them at bay. Many women suffered lasting damage resulting from the feedings.

1910s

Mary Clarke, Emmeline Pankhurst's own sister, denied food in prison and was force-fed as a result. She tragically died just two days after her release - on Christmas Day 1910 - due to a burst blood vessel in the brain.

Lilian Lenton, a Twickenham-born suffragette, was imprisoned after being accused of arson. Lenton was force-fed through a tube in her nose and contracted septic pneumonia after liquid entered her lungs.

Emily Davison was also a member of the WSPU and a key fighter for the cause. She was arrested nine times, went on hunger strikes seven times and was force-fed 49 times.

Emily Davison actually died for our right to vote (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Emily Davison actually died for our right to vote (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In 1913, she bravely died for the cause when she was hit by King George V's racing horse - who was moving at an estimated 35 miles per hour - at the Epsom Derby after deliberately running on to the track.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, the suffragette campaign was suspended to concentrate on war efforts.

But when it was over in 1918, the Representation of the People Act was issued which finally gave the vote to women over the age of 30 who owned property or had university degrees. While all women had not been enfranchised, it nevertheless marked a small victory to the cause.

Women finally partially won the vote in Britain in 1918 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Women finally partially won the vote in Britain in 1918 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

1920s

A decade later, the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 gave all women the vote when they reached the age of 21. This added a huge 8.5 million women to the voting register.

Finally, women had equal electoral rights to men.

Following this lead, most major Western powers gave electoral rights to women around and after the war, including the United States in 1920.

Exceptions in Europe include France, where women couldn't vote until 1944, and Greece, where they didn't gain the vote until 1952 and Switzerland, who weren't able to vote until 1971.

If these women and their struggles aren't reason to go and vote tomorrow, we don't know what is.

Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Topics: Life, Real Life, politics

Ciara Sheppard

Ciara is a freelance writer working for Tyla. After graduating with an English Lit and Media degree from the University of Sussex, Ciara held jobs at GLAMOUR and Yahoo Style before packing up for a solo travelling trip around South America.

 

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