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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Why Women Should Vote on Thursday

It is claimed that a significant proportion of the British electorate will not vote on Thursday. For those women contemplating the possibility of not voting, I would ask them to consider the sacrifices made in order to get them the vote.

In 1866 a group of women from the Kensington Society organised a petition that demanded that women should have the same political rights as men. The women took their petition to Henry Fawcett and John Stuart Mill, two MPs who supported universal suffrage. Mill added an amendment to the Reform Act that would give women the same political rights as men. The amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73.

Members of the Kensington Society were very disappointed when they heard the news and they decided to form the London Society for Women's Suffrage. Similar Women's Suffrage groups were formed all over Britain. In 1887 seventeen of these individual groups joined together to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

By the end of the 19th century the NUWSS had about 100,000 members but women were no closer to gaining the vote. Emmeline Pankhurst was a member of the Manchester branch of the NUWSS. By 1903 Pankhurst had become frustrated at the NUWSS lack of success. With the help of her two daughters, Christabel Pankhurst and Sylvia Pankhurst, she formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).

By 1905 the media had lost interest in the struggle for women's rights. Newspapers rarely reported meetings and usually refused to publish articles and letters written by supporters of women's suffrage. In 1905 the WSPU decided to use different methods to obtain the publicity they thought would be needed in order to obtain the vote.

During the summer of 1908 the WSPU introduced the tactic of breaking the windows of government buildings. On 30th June suffragettes marched into Downing Street and began throwing small stones through the windows of the Prime Minister's house. As a result of this demonstration, twenty-seven women were arrested and sent to Holloway Prison.

Marion Wallace-Dunlop was one of those arrested. Christabel Pankhurst later reported: "Miss Wallace Dunlop, taking counsel with no one and acting entirely on her own initiative, sent to the Home Secretary, Mr. Gladstone, as soon as she entered Holloway Prison, an application to be placed in the first division as befitted one charged with a political offence. She announced that she would eat no food until this right was conceded."

Marion Wallace-Dunlop refused to eat for several days. Afraid that she might die and become a martyr, it was decided to release her after fasting for 91 hours. Soon afterwards other imprisoned suffragettes adopted the same strategy. Unwilling to release all the imprisoned suffragettes, the prison authorities force-fed these women on hunger strike.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Whunger.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WleighM.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wwspu.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/women.htm

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