The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928

The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928

The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928

The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928

Synopsis

The Women's Suffrage Movement is the first comprehensive reference work to bring together in one volume the wealth of information available on the individuals and organizations involved in the women's suffrage movement from the 1860s to the 1920s.

Drawing on national and local archival sources, this invaluable work covers not only the political developments of the campaign but provides a vital insight into its cultural context, listing novels, plays and films and defining the position of publishers and newspapers on the question of women's suffrage.

Excerpt

The women’s suffrage campaign was a single-issue political campaign. Its first petition to parliament, presented by John Stuart Mill on 7 June 1866, was only one, passing virtually unnoticed, amongst that day’s muster. Throughout the course of the next 62 years, until women achieved full enfranchisement in 1928, the women’s suffrage campaign competed for attention in the lives of successive parliaments and, indeed, in the lives of the campaigners themselves. Using the Personal Rights Journal, the advocate of radical causes, as a lens through which to view the world of political lobbying in the 1880s, it is clear that, 20 years after it was launched, the aim and activity of the women’s suffrage campaign was not expected to be of any greater interest, nor was it considered of intrinsically greater merit, to political activists of the day than any of the other issues of concern, such as land reform, Ireland, anti-vaccination (which if anything had greater exposure), compulsory education and early closing. Doubtless reference works similar to this one could be compiled for any of these issues and, indeed, would contain many of the same names. It is to us, looking back over the past 150 years, that the campaign for women’s enfranchisement has a particular resonance. By tracing, from its faltering beginnings, the process in its various strands, constitutional and militant, we map women’s journey not only into citizenship but also into a society which that citizenship has progressively feminized. The journey’s winding path has been obscured by the knowledge that the goal was, eventually, attained. The byways and wayside dallyings of the campaign are of intrinsic interest as stages in its development, fuelling spurts of growth or new lines of attack. The women making this journey had the company of friends and relations to sustain them, and to guide them the compass of principle - that women were as equal in value to society as were men. It soon became clear, as parliament ignored the argument, that principle was not enough. Although other feminist campaigns, such as that to give married women control over their own property, that to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts, that to give widows joint guardianship of their children, and that to give suitably qualified women local government enfranchisement, were successfully manoeuvred through parliament, the machinery of government was engineered to exclude women from its workings and again and again was activated to do so. When it very quickly became clear that the argument would not be won on principle, it moved to one of mechanics. It was the use to which a vote might be put that became the rationale given to answer those defending the status quo- that the interests of women would never be protected until they were in charge of their own destiny. It is clear, however, when reading the biographies of the campaigners, how strong a motivation was the feeling that the vote was a symbolic proof of self-worth and, conversely, that without the talisman of full citizenship, women were unprotected from shame in all its social and economic manifestations. The campaign reveals in so many ways the tension between the expectations of individual women and the position to which evolving society had assigned them. It was no coincidence . . .

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