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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Suffragettes' direct action


Guest ChrisG

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  Suffragettes are considered to be great liberators of women and it's hard to deny their contribution to women's rights.  But there are two sides to the story.  Many people in history (Eg Gandhi) have made great strides in social change using peaceful means and without resorting to rioting. 

  Does anybody think they could have achieved their goals using peaceful, political methods?

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It has certainly been argued that the Great War did more for the position of Women in society than did the suffragette movement. Not least in terms of female employment and wages there were advances Although this certainly did not last after the war, the effectiveness of women at work or at war, in nursing and etc, had a significant  impact on attitudes of women and men alike. It must also be said that the British had a long history of rioting to trigger political changes, it could be argued that Ghandism was perhaps the one out of step!

Edited by David Filsell
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It depends on what you mean by rioting. The suffergist movement was largely involved in civil disobedience which is very different than rioting. Yes, there were incidents of noisy demonstrations and of criminal damage but again that is not riot

 

Please explain your real position.

 

TR

Edited by Terry_Reeves
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  Thanks for replying. 

  I specifically mentioned the suffragettes as distinct from the "Suffragists" who I understand were against confrontational action, but acted via more (for want of a better word) civilised means.  I find it hard to describe criminal damage and noisy confrontational demonstrations as "not rioting". 

  I realise oftentimes in history it's been necessary to take a militant stance against a wrong, but if possible, I think a peaceful method is preferable.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Interestingly, my Year 9 class did a lot of work on the suffragettes this year and we looked at quite a range of sources, comparing them with other groups. The WSPU 'campaign' lasted two years and demonstrated an increasing level of violence. Mrs Pankhurst was clear that they did not intend to take human life, but she was not in control of the membership and there were certainly a couple of close call. It was more by luck than judgement that nobody was killed in some of their bomb and arson attacks (including one incident where an occupied nursery was destroyed. My class concluded that while the majority of the suffragettes were just up for civil disobedience, there were some prepared to take it further, which is surprisingly similar to the early stages of most 'terrorist' groups.

 

Its also worth remembering that folks like Gandhi and Martin Luther King advocate non violence,but set out to provoke it from the opposition.So change does seem to come out of violence one way or another.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think it's a very tough question, direct action was just that, confrontational and divisive but I think it was necessary and with ML King and Gandhi they themselves may have been peaceful but their followers were anything but. I do feel that the GW was the turning point, it would have made denying women the vote after their gruelling work even more shameful.

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It's a very difficult thing to judge in today's society however although my family has no military members (all thought to be too valuable for the country to lose i.e. engineers, designers – aircraft, biochemists etc.) most of their wives were suffragettes. They didn't fight or approve of the bombing action or destruction that many did. In fact my Aunt Mable was a friend of Mrs Pankhurst and the worst that Aunt Mable ever did was either chain herself to the railings in various parts of London or throw a few rotten eggs, especially saved for the purpose evidently. Her actions led to her meeting the man of her dreams - the copper who arrested her the first time. Rather ironic really. Hilda her younger sister went on hunger strike several times – though many men in the family thought it did her good as she was rather a plump lady to begin with!

 

I've found an excellent book called 'Campaigning for the Vote, Kate Parry Frye's Suffrage Diary edited by Elizabeth Crawford' which shows how she came into the town I live in today and helped sort the problems out locally - especially with the Council who thought that all women who were suffragettes (including the Town Mayor's wife) would either bomb the brewery or the railway (they don't seem to have been worried about anything else getting hit) or destroy the rich inhabitants town houses (theirs of course) by vandalising them.

 

Thanks and take care, Kitty

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