The Evolution of Women’s Rights: A Comprehensive Look at the Suffragette Movement from the 1860s-1928

Over 100 years of the Suffrage movement

The Suffragette Movement was a pivotal moment in history that forever changed the course of women’s rights. From the 1860s to 1928, women fought tirelessly for their right to vote and to be treated as equals. Join us as we take a comprehensive look at the evolution of women’s rights and the inspiring individuals who paved the way for a more just and equitable society.

In 1918, an Act of Parliament was passed that gave women the vote in general elections for the first time in Britain. The mother of all parliaments had finally delivered equality of equals to the nation. The Suffragette story brought far more than the vote, campaigning for change would be changed forever.

Suffragists or women who should have more sense AKA ’Suffragettes’

The New York Times ran an article in October 1906 under the heading of fake Oxford dictionary meanings, it said this of the meaning of Suffragette

A ’Suffragette’ – (Strix flagitans) – a woman who should have more sense

New York Time 1906

It doesn’t get much better, Strix flagitans translates to mean, “demanding Screecher”

The word suffragist on the other hand could be a man or woman who is extending the right to vote, by peaceful means.

The Edinburgh evening news in July of 1906 quotes the Daily Mail as being sympathetic-minded to the Suffragette cause. It is clear however the distinction was being made in print at the beginning of the campaign that there were distinct groups of women campaigners who were bringing a different type of direct action activists yet seen in Britain.

The word began life as a derogatory term that became the rallying call sign for a group of women that wanted to be heard at whatever the cost, either through direct action or disruption.

Campaigner objectives of the Suffragettes movement

  • Women to have the same voting rights as men
  • Women to be able to stand as Members of Parliament in the House of Commons.
  • Women have the same basic rights as men, especially widows, and spinsters.

Women in Victorian Britain were seen as less rational, more emotional, and domestically orientated. Women were thought not to need the vote.

‘Deeds not Words’

Suffragette Motto


Many women were arrested over 1000 and it’s known at least 40 men were also imprisoned, many were in Holloway Prison in London. They endured being force-fed, hunger strikes, suffering harsh treatment in prison, separation from their children’s families, abuse, injured, fatalities, lost pay, and lost jobs. The Cat and Mouse Act was passed as a tactic to deal with the activists who were arrested. Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister, authorised forced feeding. Then this horrid situation of the cat and mouse act, where hunger strikers were released then rearrested once they gained their strength. Mary Richardson was a veteran prisoner temp released more hunger strikes than others out of Holloway.

In 1914, there were 144 acts of destruction over a 7 month period.

Representation of the Peoples Act 1918

Notably, The Representation of the Peoples Act 1918 was eventually passed giving all men the vote aged over 21 and some women over the age of 30. It also enabled women to stand as MPs in the House of Commons. It possibly was the foothold for the later 1928 act that then enabled all women over the age of 21 to be able to vote. The number of groups that were formed caused unity Commitment camaraderie.

Trafalgar Square 2018,  set up a memorial area, towards the end of the working day, of the key people who were involved in the Votes for Women campaign. Click here Key Players for a full list

The key most heard about are Emmeline Pankhurst, Millicent Fawcett,  Sophia Fry, Emma Watson, Emily Davidson,

The Absolute Timeline of the Suffragette Movement pre 1900

The Sheffield Female Political Association was the first UK women’s suffrage organisation set up in February 1851. Lead by Anne Kent, Anne Knight.

1851 Harriet Taylor Mill who was the Wife of John Stuart Mill philosopher, civil servant, and politically active. It was entitled “The Enfranchisement of Women. 

The 1860s

London National Society for Women’s Suffrage started (LSWS). A group of women in 1865. They formed a discussion group calling themselves “The Kensington Society”. They wrote a petition to Parliament to grant women the vote, but they were not really taken seriously. However, Henry Fawcett and John Stuart Mill were two MPs who backed the movement. Mill tried to add this to the 1867 reform act but it got overturned, and ignored despite the support and many signatures.

Fed up with this decision. The women formed the London Society for Women’s Suffrage (LSWS). John Stuart Mill became their president.

1869: Mill published a paper called “The Subjection of Women” in favour of equality of the sexes.

1870: The LSWS held a meeting in the Hanover Rooms memorable speech by Helen Taylor.

 1875-76: This organisation was holding several meetings in key places where men were frequenting to try and recruit and gain support.

Sophia Fry who was an educator and an activist was married to an MP. This inspired her during the era of Gladstone to form The Women’s Liberal Association in 1881, in her hometown of Darlington. Women were not really taken seriously. In 1886 Fry decided to campaign this matter further and invited 15 other representatives of other groups with similar aims to her home with the idea of forming a national federation. The Women’s Liberal Federation (WLF) was therefore formed in 1887.

There were two sides of thought to this group, the women who supported suffrage and those that were on the fence or neutral about it. Gladstone wrote a letter that opposed votes for women. Fry supported the movement and some of the ideas of suffrage she realised the confrontational aspects. In 1892 she then left the WLF and set up The Women’s National Liberal Association.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett – the founding of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS)

Millicent Fawcett Statue parliament Sq
Millicent Fawcett Statue parliament Sq

Millicent Garrett Fawcett was an influential figure in the women’s suffrage movement in the United Kingdom. She was a leading suffragist and played a significant role in the founding of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) in 1897. Fawcett believed in using peaceful and nonviolent methods to achieve women’s suffrage, and the NUWSS adopted this approach throughout their campaign.

Under Fawcett’s leadership, the NUWSS grew to become the largest women’s suffrage organization in the UK. The group organized public meetings, rallies, and peaceful demonstrations to promote their cause. Fawcett also used her position as a prominent public speaker to raise awareness about women’s suffrage and to persuade politicians to support the cause. Her efforts ultimately helped lead to the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which granted women over 30 the right to vote.

Despite her commitment to peaceful methods, Fawcett’s contributions to the suffrage movement were not always recognized by everyone. Some criticized her for not being radical enough, while others saw her as too closely aligned with the political establishment. Nevertheless, Fawcett’s tireless work on behalf of women’s suffrage paved the way for future generations of women to achieve greater political and social equality.

In recognition of her achievements, Fawcett was awarded the Order of Merit by King George V in 1925. Today, she is remembered as a trailblazer and an inspiration to those who continue to work for gender equality and social justice.

Millicent Fawcett London home, Gower Street

Take the house below, it is opposite where Millicent Fawcett was born in 1847 and lived on Gower St WC1. Dark almost regimented windows, with blanked, bricked-out window spaces. Contrast, the transformations from the industrial revolution, of the 1760s-1840, to the dignified houses you see on Bedford Square.  Without the fight for the women’s vote, we would not be able to tell what females lived in that or any house.  No Vote is meant to present or trace on the electoral list. Women appear on the electoral list now because of what was started by this movement. Also, men were restricted in terms of voting too, this movement enabled more men to become visible on the electoral lists, so we could in time look up who lived where and who our ancestors were.

The Drive to get The Middle-Class Vote

The focus was on getting middle-class women who owned property the vote. By peaceful petitions, strong arguments, and lobbying docile demonstrations. They wanted a respectable responsible image to assure people they could handle a position in politics. They soon realised they needed working-class women to support them. There were other groups that represented industrial workers, and their economic rights, trade unionists. There was a National and Professional Women’s Suffrage Society too. There was even a Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage and many splinter organisations that in some form supported the suffrage movement. Since prior to 1918 the vote was not all equal for men either.

Emmeline Pankhurst: A Trailblazer of the Suffragette Movement

Emmeline Pankhurst was a British political activist and the leader of the suffragette movement in the early 20th century. Born in Manchester, England in 1858, Pankhurst grew up in a politically active family and developed a passion for women’s rights at an early age. In 1903, she founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which quickly became known for its militant tactics in the fight for women’s suffrage.

The start of Direct Action

Fed up with the NUWSS’s slow tactics and the realisation that nothing had changed in 50-odd years of peaceful petitions and campaigns. Founded a splinter group in Manchester in 1903, that had vengeance. This was called the WSPU Women’s and Social and Political Union. Using working-class women to gain numbers and spread the word. The motto was “Deeds not words” More or less the theme behind the idiom, “Actions speak louder than words”.  The idea was to start the activist militancy side of campaigning, using direct action, commotion, shock, and disturbance. Being politically articulate inputting the message or points across, and fearless. Phrases such as “We shall work not by means of any outworn missionary methods but by political action”. London then became the public circus space of the Suffragette headlines.

Under Pankhurst’s leadership, the suffragettes engaged in a variety of direct action tactics, including hunger strikes, window-smashing, and arson. Pankhurst and other suffragettes were frequently arrested and imprisoned for their activities, and many endured brutal treatment at the hands of authorities. Despite this, Pankhurst remained committed to the cause of women’s suffrage, famously declaring that “we are here not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers.”

Pankhurst’s efforts, along with those of other suffragettes, ultimately paid off. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed, granting the right to vote to women over the age of 30 who met certain property qualifications. In 1928, this was extended to include all women over the age of 21. Pankhurst did not live to see this victory, as she passed away in 1928, just a few weeks before the law was passed.

The Legacy of Pankhurst

Despite her controversial tactics, Emmeline Pankhurst is remembered as a pioneering figure in the fight for women’s rights. Her unwavering commitment and willingness to risk everything for the cause of suffrage paved the way for future generations of women to achieve greater political and social equality. Her legacy lives on as a symbol of the power of activism and the importance of fighting for justice and equality.

Emmeline Pankhurst Speech, 10th October 1903

Pankhurst was broadcasting “You must make women count as much as men” It was now the Edwardian era the society also wanted equal political power. Pankhurst’s daughter Sylvia was also active.

The Definitive Timne Line of The Suffragette Story


Pankhurst protested outside parliament. Suffragettes were known for their extreme measures, hunger strikes, and throwing rocks at key buildings where men in positions of power worked. Vandalism, breaking into buildings where women were not allowed.  Jumping out on people, unexpectantly, bomb explosions, boycotting, sabotage. Chaining themselves to railings. Protesting, marches rallies, smashing windows with toffee hammers.


Also in 1906 many papers nationally were using this suffragette term. Even the Tattler contained an article “The Soul of a Suffragette in 1906 by Barry Pain, with a cartoon illustration that would not be allowed in today’s society because of its racist and anti-women connotations.


In 1907 Pankhurst and others clashed on various issues, so another subgroup was formed the Women’s Freedom League. The 3 groups didn’t always agree, but the main common aim slowly gained momentum. NUWSS was collecting more members. By 1909 the WSPU had branches all over the Uk. They published a magazine that sold over 20 000 copies a week.

1907 A march from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall in the rain and mud often coined the Mud March.


1908  21st June Saw the biggest political demonstration In British history, a rally in Hyde Park sometimes called “Women’s Sunday attracted some 300,00 to 500, 000 activists. Prime Minister Asquith is not interested, so the women throw rocks through windows in Parliament with messages to them. More chained themselves to railings.

King George‘s Private golf course

The Golf course was near Balmoral, it had been interfered with by Suffragettes In 1911. The flagpole holes, in the golfing green, had been changed to the colours mainly purple on the night of the suffragette movement. They had inscriptions on them, A Cabinet Minister was staying there at the time and they wanted to lobby and irritate.

Ethel Smyth

A composer and also a suffragette wrote 1911 “The March of the Women” It became the official Anthem of the Women’s Social and Political Union. It was dedicated to Emmeline Pankhurst. Smyth was also put in prison for rock-throwing into the Houses of Parliament. She did time in Holloway prison too in 1912. She was made a Dame in 1928.


More than 50 stalls were set up at The Women’s Exhibition, held at Princes Skating Rink, Knightsbridge, on 13-26 May 1909. The stalls by the suffragettes and women’s movements put all their proceeds towards the suffrage campaign fund. The exhibition was decorated throughout with the union’s colours of purple, green, and white.

The First Hunger Strike was in 1909, By striker Marion Wallace Dunlop from the Scottish WSPU


The Conciliation Bill carried through and was about to be considered in the House Commons giving women the Vote. Asquith terminated the Bill by following through with the message no more time was going to be wasted on this issue. 18th November 1910  WSPU retaliated in more protesting by sending some 300 women to the House of Commons. They were met with strong violence some 6 hours of violence, kicked to the curb, beaten, assaulted, and other tactics like groping, injuries fatalities, and Arrests. This atrocity was called Black Friday. A photograph was taken of one of the injured suffragettes, called Ada Wright. The Government tried to stop the circulation of the Daily Mirror article and demanded the negatives which they destroyed. No Inquiry was made into the Black Friday devastation. The retaliation to this launched the window-smashing and vandalising of property. They saw this as being quicker and safer from being caught or suffering. 1912 The parliamentary franchise for Women bill was entertained but yet again defeated. Retaliations with more smashing windows resulted.


A woman on hunger strike in Holloway prison embroidered a handkerchief with her thoughts and feelings about that experience. Janie Terrero created this whilst under pressure, resisting, duress, and painful struggle. It is an artifact that is a way to capture, political history. Domestic craft became the symbolism of a powerful message Terrero Janie

There are some embroidered items in the Museum of London’s current exhibition.

Terrero was in her fifties when she embroidered the handkerchief.  She was doing a 4-month sentence for breaking a window. She had not been guilty of any crime prior to this. She was a very able musical composer married to an Argentinian, she was living a comfortable life in Essex with leisure time hobbies.

A lot of women turned to use textiles and in a way, their banners flags, and these embroidered works have documented history in symbolic domestic arts with the cloth. Many of them refused to pay fines or accept the lighter option. This would result in them being put in prison. Many would opt for harsher criminal sentencing to make more of a statement. Different crimes could be filed and sentenced differently and the treatment and punishment differed in severity. Terrero made it known that some of these judges were contemptuous, patronising. She named one of her judges in her embroidery. Judge Lawrie on Wednesday, March 27th to four months”. Writing paper was sometimes not allowed but needle and thread seem to have escaped notice many communicated what happened to them in prison by sewing.


The Cat and Mouse Act was passed, and this was hoped to deal with the number of arrests that were increasing. Hunger strikers were temporarily released to regain their strength, but they could then be re-arrested. They did not want these women to die whilst under police care.

Emily Davidson  Was arrested many times and force-fed by brutal methods an inhuman amount of times. June 1913 was the year she jumped out in front of King Georges’s horse which was galloping at the Epsom race course. She died as a result 4 days later. Debates speculate that it was not a planned suicide act and perhaps an accident. She went down in history as a martyr to the cause.

Emily Wilding Davidson’s summary of her input

Born Blackheath 11/10/1872. Women were not allowed to study degrees she studied at Oxford and Royal Holloway College. She was a teacher. She joined the Women’s Social and Political Union WSPU in 1906. Arrested for arson and disturbing the peace.

1909 months prison Strangeways in Manchester throwing big stones at the carriage of David Lloyd George chancellor. In Strangeways she was subjected to a water hose in response to her hunger strike this flooded the cell a bit and she later sued the Prison staff for it.

4/6/1913 She went to Epsom Derby and planned to sabotage the king’s horse in the race by throwing herself in front of it. She died 4 days later.

She also came into the House of Commons and came in hid in a ventilation shaft for 36 hrs. Till found by police. Suffragette my ambition is to get into the house to ask a question. House of Commons.

The Movement needed to Mobilise public opinion and get their interest in the “Votes for Women Campaign. A Few hundred thousand spectators were being pulled into events like this.

Memorial stone about the prisons and the suffrage movement Tower Victoria Gardens
Memorial stone about the prisons and the suffrage movement Tower Victoria Gardens


In August of that year, WWI broke out. Women’s groups of the suffrage movement unanimously decided to backbench activism and pull together to make total focus on the war effort. This indirectly showed that women were able to run the fort when the men were away and how they too could adapt and fill roles that previously men did. It also showed them being “professionals” not activists.

10 March 1914 however, Mary Richardson. national gallery London went in to commit an act of vandalism. Walked up to a painting, struck it with a meat cleaver broke the glass, and slashed the painting 7 times. It was the artwork entitled, “Figure of Venus Velasquez”,  ‘Rokeby Venus’. It was seen as the worst act of violence of that kind in history. She told them “I’m a suffragette”.

1914. Aug ww1 started. Unity required men’s and women’s vote campaigns put aside. WW1 used women to fill the roles this gave more focus to women’s equality in all social classes. 1918 they were not seen as weak.


The Electoral Reform Bill passed in Parliament, allowed some women over the age of 30 to vote and those who were over 21 who owned their own house and or were married


The Representation of the Peoples Act is finally passed allowing all men over 21 to vote and all women over 30 to vote. As well as women to stand as MPS in Parliament.

After ww1 the 6th Feb 1918 Representation of peoples act was passed allowing women over 30 to vote. Votes for all


Nancy Astor the first woman in parliament to stand as an MP


Not until 1928 was the 1918  Representation of the People’s Act revised.  Finally giving women the equal age of 21 in order to vote, which matched the age set for men.

The Suffragette Movement and its Impact on Modern Feminism

The Suffragette Movement, which began in the late 19th and early 20th century, was a social and political movement that advocated for women’s right to vote. It was a highly visible and controversial movement that utilized tactics such as protests, hunger strikes, and civil disobedience to draw attention to the cause. The movement’s impact on modern feminism cannot be overstated, as it paved the way for the advancement of women’s rights in all aspects of society.

One of the most significant impacts of the Suffragette Movement was the recognition of women’s political power. The movement demonstrated that women could organise, mobilize, and effect change through collective action. The Suffragettes were successful in raising awareness of the issue of women’s suffrage and pressuring politicians to take action. This recognition of women’s political power laid the foundation for women’s participation in politics and paved the way for female representation in government and leadership positions.

Another impact of the Suffragette Movement was the broadening of the feminist movement. While the Suffragettes focused on women’s right to vote, they also highlighted broader issues of gender inequality, such as women’s access to education, employment, and reproductive rights. This broader perspective led to the development of a more inclusive feminist movement that sought to address a wide range of issues facing women.

The Suffragette Movement also contributed to the development of feminist theory. The movement’s emphasis on collective action and political power influenced feminist thinking on the role of women in society. Feminist scholars began to study women’s history and experiences and to develop new theories and frameworks to understand the complexities of gender inequality. The Suffragette Movement’s legacy can be seen in the continued development of feminist theory, which seeks to understand and address the ongoing challenges faced by women today.

Emmeline Pankhurst’s home in Manchester was turned into a Museum.

Once women were entitled to vote, their existence became to leave a footprint on electoral registers and it is through this that the census is not the only way to find where women lived or were. As one can see from Pankhurst’s job description on the 1901 census. She encourages boycotting the data that the 1911 census enumerators collected. Women were told to hide, go out bend the truth about details given. The view was why should they be counted if they are not given the vote? There doesn’t seem to be 1911 entries for some of these women including Pankhurst herself.

Emmeline Pankhurst died June 14, 1928, tombstone is at Brompton Cemetery in London.

Pankurst Grave stone London Brompton Cemetery

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