On today – the 100th anniversary of some of the female population gaining the right to vote I have been contemplating something which I turn over in my head from time to time. If I was to go back 100 years, wrapped in crinoline and a fancy hat would I be a suffragist or a suffragette?
For those who are unaware of the difference I once had it explained to me that the suffragettes were the ones who blew things up, chained themselves to the railings, generally made a nuisance of themselves and ended up being force-fed when they got arrested. The suffragists were the ones who did long walks to gain support for the cause, wrote a lot of letters to newspapers, their MPs (well not their’s obviously, their husbands possibly!), and lead support through women’s groups and wherever they could gain influence.
My first introduction to Suffragettes was as a child we used to go walking on the local moors – a place locally called ‘The Chinese Gardens’. This was once part of the home of Lord Leverhulme – local soap magnate and owner of Lever Bros. The house that once went along with the gardens was called The Bungalow and in its first incarnation it was burned to the ground by a suffragette called Edith Rigby. At the time I thought this was well, not quite cricket – you can’t go burning places down for a cause. Today we would call that terrorism. It is also possibly slightly ironic that Lord Leverhulme was actually a supporter of universal suffrage. I’ll probably get around to blogging about this one day!
My first introduction to Suffragists was when I was reading a piece for my degree which covered women and medicine and I came across Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. For those unaware of her work she was the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon. And in my opinion if that wasn’t badass enough, she was also a suffragist. This lead me to investigate her sister – also pretty badass. Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, one of the first feminists, and a suffragist. She was a tireless campaigner for women’s rights, as well as the right to vote she pushed for greater opportunities for women in higher education. As a student this was obviously pretty inspiring.
Now I am not saying there is anything wrong really getting behind your cause, but I think the suffragettes were pretty militant. I am fairly sure if we were to go round today blowing up letterboxes for a cause it would be greatly frowned upon, as it was then. There are a number of schools of thought that discuss that this ‘militant’ action was actually damaging the cause and that the letter writing, speech giving ladies of the Suffragists were in fact the reason that the vote was granted in the end.
So where would I sit. Well although I have a big mouth, I am not one for getting into too much trouble and if anyone has seen me hungry, then they’ll know hunger strike just ain’t for me, but I do love to write a letter! So today I’ll think of all the women who have helped push for women’s rights. From those early ladies on the IOW, (read more about them here https://sudniheritage.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/1866-mass-votes-for-women-petition-iow/) past my suffragist sisters and the suffragettes, to those who are still campaigning for equal rights for all minorities. And please spare a thought for those often forgotten ladies, not leaping in front of the Kings horse for the cause, but writing all those letters. After all the pen is mightier than the sword.