The foundation of the Women’s Social & Political Union

Suffragette

On the 10th October 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union, whose members came to be known as suffragettes, was founded at the Manchester home of Sylvia and Emmeline Pankhurst.

Frustrated by the lack of progress made by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies from whom the group had split, the WSPU soon became known for its militant and sometimes violent actions under the motto “Deeds, not words”.

The WSPU did not seek universal suffrage, rather votes for women on the same basis as votes for men. Considering many men at the time were denied the vote due to the property qualifications, the proposals by the WSPU were seen by some not as “votes for women” but “votes for ladies”. The WSPU even split from the Labour Party after Labour voted in favour of universal suffrage, leading the suffragettes to became more explicitly middle-class.

However, the actions of the suffragettes soon brought into question the traditional ideas of ladylike behavior as they were routinely arrested for various activities that were designed to shock the refined members of the establishment. It was to distinguish these actions from the more genteel suffrage groups that the Daily Mail newspaper reporter Charles Hands coined the term ‘suffragette’ to describe members of the WSPU.

Actions such as window breaking and arson routinely saw members of the WSPU imprisoned, where they would often go on hunger strike and be subjected to force-feeding by the authorities. However, the best known action is probably that of Emily Davison who was killed after stepping in front of the King’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby.

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