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1900 to 1909 

The Birth of the Sufferage Movement

"Let women be what God intended, a helpmate for man, but with totally different duties and vocations" - Queen Victoria. 

Image taken from Mrs Pankhurst's Own Story at

By the turn of the century Queen Victoria had been on the throne for 62 years and it seemed she was quite happy with women's place in society.


Women of the age had already battled and succeeded in obtaining basic rights of property ownership and university education but realised much more was needed if women were to become equal in society and get rid of their second-class status.

Dates of note for women before 1900 are:

  • 1866 Women’s Suffrage committee formed by Barbara Bodinchon

  • 1867 National Society for Women's Suffrage formed by Lydia Beker

  • 1897 National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies formed by Millicent Fawcett

With New Zealand, South Australia and some states in America having already been successful in obtaining votes for women by the turn of the century, women in the UK decided it was fight they could take on and win. 


1902 a delegation of northern women textiles workers took a 37,000 signatory petition to parliament demanding votes for women and the campaign began in earnest. 


1903 The Women's Social and Political Union was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia.

1905 Christabel Pankhurst was the first woman to be imprisoned for her suffragette militancy actions.


1906 The term "suffragette" was first used in the Daily Mail newspaper and although it was intended as a derogatory slur for women in the WSPU it was taken up by them and used to celebrate the cause.

Women's’ Freedom League (WFL) formed by Teresa Billington-Greig and Charlotte Despard. The First large procession, known as the "Mud March", was organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. A gain for women was that "The Qualification of Women Act" was passed allowing single and unmarried women to be elected on to borough and county councils.


1908 Sarah Elizabeth Woodward became the first woman councillor. The suffragettes had well and truly organised. Seven processions march through London, and became known as “Women’s Sunday” estimated figure between 300,000 and 500,000 in attendance  Women’s Sunday: Hyde Park 1908 – Marches, Protest and Militancy ( In October "The rush on Parliament" included around 60,000 women & male allies, they were unable to gain access. However, later that day Mrs Travers Symons, Keir Hardie was able to gain access to the Chamber where MPs were debating & shouted give votes to women before being dragged away. Also, in October a banner was able to be unfurled from the ladies gallery demanding votes for woman where the women involved chained themselves to the grill & had to be cut free.

1909 Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, qualified as Britain's first doctor also became the UK's first woman Mayor.

By the end of the decade women were gaining strength and courage to fight for their rights to vote & many stores ran out of purple ribbons. Women were imprisoned for minor infringements with Marion Wallace Dunlop becoming the first woman to go on hunger strike in Holloway woman's prison on 5th July 1909 for militancy. Although initially unsanctioned by the WSPU hunger strikes were taken up by the suffragette movement and the barbarous act of force feeding was introduced.

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