Suffragettes ‘in Trousers’

Illustrated London News, November 28, 1908. (Catalogue ref: ZPER 34/133 (7) )

Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 1, Key stage 3, Key stage 5

Time period: Early 20th Century 1901-1918

Curriculum topics: Political and social reform, Significant individuals, Suffrage

Suggested inquiry questions: How did men help the Suffrage movement?

Potential activities: Explore the Suffrage movement with our selection of Suffrage lessons. Research key Suffrage figures and compare their methods of activism. Create a timeline of key events in the suffrage movement.

Download: Lesson pack

How did men support votes for women?

While the fight for votes for women has been long been regarded as a movement led and supported by women, it is important to recognize that men participated in the struggle, both in and outside Parliament.

Also, men’s suffrage societies contributed to the general campaign with the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage (1907) and The Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement (1910).

With the coming of the First World War the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and Women’s Social and Political Union called off their fight for enfranchisement.

In 1918, women were given limited voting rights with the Representation of the People Act. Universal suffrage, that is, the vote for men and women on equal terms, was finally achieved with the Equal Franchise Act in 1928 when all men and women were given the vote at 21 years. In 1969 the voting age for men and women was lowered to 18.

Use the sources in this lesson to investigate the role played by male supporters, or ‘suffragettes in trousers’ during the campaign for votes for women.


Tasks

Leaflet for the ‘Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement’ (Catalogue ref: CRIM 1/149)

  1. What were the aims of this union?
  2. How did the ‘Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement’ hope to achieve its aims?

Pledge coupon for ‘Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement’ (Catalogue ref: CRIM 1/149)

  1. According to the membership pledge coupon, what specific action would male supporters of female suffrage take?
  2. What possible impact could this action have?
  3. What do both these documents reveal about the organisation of the Men’s Political Union?

Petition from the ‘Men’s Committee of Justice for Women’s Suffrage’, 29 June, 1909 (Catalogue ref: HO 45/10338/139199)

  1. What sort of suffrage campaign method is this?
  2. What arguments are used to justify votes for women?
  3. Why have the petitioners appealed to the king?
  4. Find out more about the ‘Men’s Committee of Justice for Women’s Suffrage’, how did it differ from ‘Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement?’

Extract from a leaflet from The Women’s Social and Political Union entitled ‘Torture in an English Prison (Catalogue ref: HO 144/1183/218081)

  1. How and why did William Ball choose to support female suffrage?
  2. Why did he ask to be treated as a ‘political offender’?
  3. What clues does this source provide about effectiveness of the Women’s Social and Political Union as a pressure group?

Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act 1913 form (Catalogue ref: HO 144/13025)

  1. Why was Hugh Arthur Franklin sent to prison?
  2. Why was he released from prison do you think?
  3. What is the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act more commonly known as?

Extract from the front page of ‘The Suffragette’ newspaper, dated 22 November 1912 (Catalogue ref: ASSI 52/212)

  1. What has George Lansbury, Member of Parliament for Bow & Bromley, decided to do to support votes for women?
  2. How does the language and tone used in this newspaper show its support for George Lansbury?

Extension questions

  1. Can you explain why the sources for this lesson topic come from these particular collections, i.e. H.O. (Home Office), CRIM (records from the Central Criminal Court), ASSI (records of justices of assize and related bodies i.e. court sessions in English counties for trial of civil and criminal cases) and T (records from the treasury)?

Clue: Think about the role of these particular bodies/departments.

  1. Can you suggest any other sources which could be used to find out more about ‘Suffragettes in trousers’?

Background

In the nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill had presented an amendment to the Second Reform Bill in 1866 to include votes for women when the issue of the franchise was aired. Henry Fawcett, reformer of the Post Office, was also a keen supporter of the suffrage movement. He worked with his wife Millicent on her campaigns with the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies and provided financial backing. Similarly, barrister Frederick Pethick-Lawrence worked with his wife Emmeline, leading suffragette campaigner and publicist. Labour M.P. Kier Hardie often raised the issue in the House of Commons and fellow member George Lansbury resigned his seat in 1912 so that he could fight a by-election on the suffrage question, although he did not regain his seat until 1922. He served time in prison for making speeches in support of members of the Women’s Social and Political Union who committed criminal acts. Whilst serving time in Pentonville Prison he went on hunger strike.

Other high profile male supporters included philosopher Bertrand Russell- who had stood at the Wimbledon by-election in the 1907 on the votes for women ticket. In his campaign pamphlet he said: “I consider that the exclusion of women from direct political action is unjust and inexpedient, and that no reason exists for prolonging this exclusion. If elected I should urge the claims of women to enfranchisement at every opportunity.” He argued in an article entitled Liberalism and Women’s Suffrage (1908) that “it is plain that no man can call himself truly a democrat if he is in favour of excluding half the nation from all participation in public affairs”.

Dr Richard Pankhurst, in 1883 had stood as an Independent candidate for a by-election in Manchester for universal adult suffrage. Later he concentrated on the struggle for women’s rights and in 1889 helped form the Women’s Franchise League with his wife Emmeline. The organisation’s main objective was to secure the vote for women in local elections.

Victor Storr and Thomas Bayard Simmonds started a series protests in Parliament later called the ‘Grille Protest’, vividly described in the London Illustrated News at the time. From the public gallery they called for justice for women and showered the M.P.s below with suffrage leaflets. As part of this coordinated protest, some women chained themselves to the metal grille which concealed them from the chamber, Some men called for the protection of women at public meetings and spoke out against the brutality of their treatment by the authorities. Others were ridiculed or forcibly removed from political meetings for protesting against the exclusion of women from the franchise.

Support for the female franchise also came from male writers such as E.M. Foster, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Hardy and the economist John Maynard Keynes.   Henry Selfridge also supported votes for women, there must have been some self-interest here in wanting to secure the female market for his department store, but nevertheless he promoted the Women’s Social and Political Union with a flag on the building and advertised in the suffragette paper Votes for Women and used the suffragette colours in his department store’s win­dows.

Of course the campaign was not just supported by those men who had the advantage of making themselves heard through access to political power, money or privilege. There were ordinary working class and middle class men who wanted the vote for their female relatives and friends. There were whole suffrage families that showed shared commitment to the cause. Documentary evidence exists for men going on hunger strike, publishing suffragette campaign material and supporting pressure groups such as The Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage (1907) and The Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement (1910) founded by Victor Duval who in the same year published a pamphlet entitled An Appeal to Men. Duval prior this had been active supporter of The Women’s Social and Political Union and the Women’s Freedom League. He was also charged in July, 1909 for “Aiding and abetting Marion Wallace Dunlop, in wilful and malicious damage to the stone work of St. Stephen’s Hall, House of Commons, by stamping it with an indelible rubber stamp, to the value of ten shillings.”

Men’s Committee for Justice to Women was founded in 1909 after the Women’s Freedom League deputation to parliament was arrested and imprisoned. The Committee watched cases where women were prosecuted for suffrage protests. Albert Dawson was its chairman. One of their petitions is included as a source for this this lesson.

According to Israel Zangwill, member of The Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, “the petticoat no longer makes the Suffragette. We are suffragettes – suffragettes in trousers.”  The men who set up and joined these pressure groups wanted to use their position as voters to secure the vote for women. However, there were differences between the organisations. The Men’s League favoured a more legalistic approach and discussed the ethical arguments in favour of votes for women. The Men’s Political Union, formed later, favoured more direct action. Another organisation, founded by Mrs Arncliffe-Sennett in 1913, was The Northern Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage and sent a delegation of Scotsmen to meet the Liberal Prime Minister, Herbert Henry Asquith. Some suffrage societies allowed men to be members; the Women’s Social and Political Union however, did not.

The Representation of the People Act passed in 1918 did not give all women the right to vote.  Only those aged 30 or over and were home owners could vote. This meant that a further 8.4 million women attained the right but working class women did not get the right to the ballot. Full suffrage for all women over the age of 21, on equal terms as men, was granted ten years later with the Second Representation of the People’s Act in 1928.


Teachers' notes

This lesson, ‘Suffragettes in trousers’ uses documents to explore male participation in the struggle for the vote for women both in and outside Parliament. The overarching enquiry question is ‘How did men support for votes for women?’ but also did the nature of that support vary?

The sources reveal that men were also prepared to adopt a range of methods to fight for the cause in a way that some students may not be familiar with or not had an opportunity to acknowledge. Male supporters set up their own pressure groups and also made peaceful and militant protests in order to fight for the enfranchisement of women.

We hope that these documents will offer students a chance to develop their powers of evaluation and analysis. The intention is that this lesson would be used as part of general scheme of work on the Suffragette movement. Therefore, a couple of questions require the pupils to use their own contextual knowledge or extend their research or as with the Extension Questions, focus specifically on the fact that they are working with archival sources.

Alternatively, teachers may wish to use the sources to develop their own lesson in a different way or combine with other sources available from our Suffragettes on file online resource. In this themed collection there are further documents on the role of George Lansbury and other male supporters.

All sources in this lesson have been provided with a transcript and more difficult language has been explained in square brackets. Each source is captioned and dated to provide a sense of what the document is about. Teachers may wish to adapt this lesson to a group-based activity. Small groups could work on printed versions of the different sources and present to the rest of class or work at a whiteboard and present to the class that way.


External links

LSE Library, Suffrage collection: http://www.lse.ac.uk/library/collections/collection-highlights/womens-suffrage

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Lesson at a glance

Suitable for: Key stage 1, Key stage 3, Key stage 5

Time period: Early 20th Century 1901-1918

Curriculum topics: Political and social reform, Significant individuals, Suffrage

Suggested inquiry questions: How did men help the Suffrage movement?

Potential activities: Explore the Suffrage movement with our selection of Suffrage lessons. Research key Suffrage figures and compare their methods of activism. Create a timeline of key events in the suffrage movement.

Download: Lesson pack

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