Changing World - Suffrage

Today young girls in Britain can look forward to the same opportunities as boys. They can study the same subjects at school and university. When they grow up they can do the same jobs as men, and can expect to be paid the same for doing them. This has not always been the case. It was very different for young girls in Britain 100 years ago. For example, it is less than 100 years since women won the right to vote in general elections in this country.

The formation of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Britain was an important step in the campaign for votes for women. Many women joined them in the fight to win the right to vote. They became known as the Suffragettes. For years they marched and demonstrated for the right to vote. They also protested in other more dangerous and violent ways to attract attention to their group with the aim of increasing support for their cause. Several women broke the law and were sent to prison.

In 1914 World War I began and thousands of men joined the armed forces. This meant that many jobs, that before had only been done by men, were taken on by women. This made it very difficult for people to argue that women should not be allowed to vote and the post-war government did not want to risk women campaigning again. In 1918, British women over the age of 30 were given the right to vote. In 1928 women were given equal voting rights with men. Since then more and more things have changed to give women in Britain equal rights to men. These things might never have happened without the determination of the WSPU, and the women who worked long hours in factories and on farms during World War I.

Suffrage Cushion and Badges Suffrage Tea Set

Activities

  1. Imagine it is 1903. Organise a class debate about whether women should have the right to vote. Think about the arguments that people at the time would have made for and against women having this right.
  2. Look at the velvet cushion in the timeline. Badges would have helped let people know about the cause and shown that the person wearing the badges supported the suffragettes. Do you have any badges? What do they tell other people about you and the things that you are interested in?
  3. Christabel Pankhurst trained as a lawyer, but was not allowed to work as a lawyer because she was a woman. Think about you would feel if you were in that situation - if you were not allowed to do something that you had worked hard for, just because you were a girl.