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The suffrage movement, 1893-1918

Overview:

The Modern Records Centre has a small quantity of material relating to the campaign for votes for women - many of the relevant documents are outlined in a 'ready-made' search of our archive catalogue.

We have a larger quantity of material relating to campaigns relating to economic and employment rights during this period (including strikes by women workers). This includes documents relating to pioneering women trade unionists and activists (including individuals, such as Ellen Wilkinson and Susan Lawrence, who later became prominent politicians) in an extensive series of files relating to the administration of Trade Boards during the 1900s-1920s. The Trade Boards were created to tackle 'sweated' or sweatshop labour by setting a minimum wage in some of the most exploitative industries in Britain. As many of these industries relied on female labour, the documents give a rare view of the lives of working women, as well as the work of those campaigning on their behalf. Items from this collection are currently being digitised.

The annual reports of the Manchester Women's Trades Council, 1895-1906, focus primarily on campaigns for economic and employment rights but do include a few references to politics - including a brief comment on the resignation of committee members in 1904 over the council's refusal to add campaigning for political rights to the official objectives of the organisation.

Catalogue = This symbol after a link means that it links to catalogue descriptions of the documents (including the reference numbers which will help you to order up the original documents at the MRC).

Digitised = This symbol after a link means that it links to digitised copies of the documents.

Selected sources:

'Women in the World', July 1895 Digitised

Article by Caroline E.D. Martyn, published in the July 1895 issue of the Labour Church journal 'The Labour Prophet'. She argues that social inequality stems more from class ("false social and economic conditions"), rather than gender divisions, and that "the true interests of men and women [are] identical".

What do we women want?: for it is certain that discontent or a spirit of unrest has taken possession more or less of us all, 1900 Catalogue

Short pamphlet by the birth control pioneer, social reformer and suffragist Jane Clapperton.

The New Woman, [1900s] Digitised

Postcard showing the stereotypical 'new woman' of the 1890s and early 1900s, leaving her husband with the washing, cooking and children.

Cycling archives at the MRC contain a surprisingly large amount of material on the 'New Woman' - the bike was seen as a symbol of freedom or liberation. Extracts from cycling publications (including some references to political rights for women) are included in our online exhibition 'Freedom on two wheels: The New Woman and the bicycle'.

The women's suffrage controversy, March 1905 Digitised

Short article by Margaret Bondfield, published in the monthly report of the National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives. She criticises the Women's Enfranchisement Bill for limiting the proposed extension of the franchise only to women who met certain property qualifications (the middle class "ratepaying spinster"), suggests that "any further strengthening of the propertied base of our electoral system indefinitely postpones the realisation of the democratic ideal of adult suffrage", and argues that working women need to organise industrially rather than "think the vote is the panacea for all industrial ills". Margaret Bondfield was elected as a Labour Member of Parliament in 1923 and became the first female Cabinet Minister (Minister of Labour) in 1929.

A word to the women, 1906 Digitised

General election leaflet issued by the Liberal Party. It targets the unenfranchised women - asking them to "urge [their] husbands and sons" to vote for Liberal candidates, on the basis that their policies will provide cheaper food and other domestic items.

A conversation on a subject of the day, 1912 Digitised

Article from the monthly magazine of the Young Women's Christian Association, 'Our Outlook', on the arguments for and against women's suffrage. Representatives of both sides briefly present their arguments to "Mrs and Miss Elliott, impartial enquirers".

Song sheet of the East London Federation of the Suffragettes, c1913 Digitised

The publication contains a mixture of feminist and socialist songs, including songs with strong links to the British and international labour movements (democratic and revolutionary) such as the Red Flag and the International.

'Woman's Freedom', 1914 Digitised

The author, Lily Gair Wilkinson, looks at the movement for women's rights from an anarchist perspective. The pamphlet criticises the attempts to get votes for women as an irrelevance, and argues that class, not gender, is the cause of oppression.

The economic foundations of the women's movement, 1914 Catalogue

Fabian Society pamphlet by suffragist Mabel Atkinson.

Seventh annual report and balance sheet of the National Federation of Women Workers, 1914 Digitised

The illustrated report covers the trade union's activities in 1913/4, including strikes in various industries ("the Deptford uprising" and more). Mary Macarthur, the union's General Secretary, was also a suffragist and stood as a candidate in the 1918 parliamentary election.

'Women's suffrage', 1914-1915 Digitised

Article by J. Pearce, a member of the Bronx branch of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners (a British trade union), serialised in the monthly journal of the union. The author's sometimes rambling narrative includes a definition of women's suffrage, a profile of Emmeline Pankhurst, and studies of lawyers and politicians as a type. He links the suffragette movement to other historic movements for social change.

The sections with most direct relevance to women's suffrage are in the issues for October 1914, November 1914, and February 1915.

Speeches in support of women's suffrage, 1916 Digitised

The archives of Sir Leslie Scott, Conservative MP for Liverpool Exchange, include the text of two speeches made in support of women's suffrage - 'Objections to women's suffrage stated and answered' and 'Women should be granted the parliamentary vote because'

The position of women after the war, [c.1916] Digitised

Report by the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations, presented to the Joint Committee on Labour Problems After the War (formed by representatives of the trade unions, the Labour Party and the War Emergency Workers' National Committee). It looks at the effects of the First World War on women in industry and proposes policies to be followed in the post-war reconstruction of the country, including on social welfare, employment and political enfranchisement.

'Votes for Women' letter

Women's Social and Political Union circular issued by Emmeline Pankhurst, 1914, included in the 'Miscellaneous Collection'.