Women’s Suffrage

Amber Druce

Curator – Social History

In the 19th century women weren’t allowed to vote. Organised suffragist campaigns began to appear in 1866 and campaigns continued for many years, with some members becoming more militant when their views were ignored.

It wasn’t until 6 February 1918 that legislation allowed all women over 30 who owned a property the right to vote. This vote also gave all men over 21 the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1928 that men and women could vote on an equal footing.

In 1914, the campaign for women’s right to vote was at its height. When the war began some protestors called off their campaign and the government released all suffragette prisoners. Campaigners reacted differently to the war. Some called for women to participate in war work, while others took a pacifist stance.

Suffragettes in Bristol

Theresa Garnett, who had attacked Winston Churchill at Temple Meads station in 1909 and been held in Horfield Prison, enlisted and served as a nurse in field hospitals. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, a Bristol woman who founded and edited the suffragette newspaper Votes for Women, attended an international peace conference in 1915. She addressed meetings and wrote articles in support of peace. After the war, the vote was granted to women aged 30 or over, or who owned a house. This meant that many women who had worked for the war effort still could not vote.

The right to vote was finally granted to all adults aged 21 or over in 1928.

Ivy Heppell

In 1906, suffragist Ivy Gertrude Heppell, from Bristol, was imprisoned for her part in the campaign to allow votes for women. She was 19 at the time. She and four other women were arrested for disrupting the House of Commons and calling ‘Votes for Women’.

When asked in court whether she had any questions for the Magistrate, she said ‘I should like to ask him if he was a working woman what would he do to get justice for women and children?’

When addressing him she said ‘Well, what would you do to try and make things better for people who are worse off than yourself – for poor old people who are not able to get any work, and for poor children who go to school hungry?’

The Magistrate replied ‘I see you are only nineteen years old. I don’t think you would have the vote any way. They don’t get the vote until they are 21.’

Rosette, ribbon and sash of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU)

The rosette and ribbon show the purple, white and green colours of the union. They were owned by Ivy Heppell, a WSPU supporter.

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Mrs Eva James (maiden name Muschamp) from Redland, Bristol, wore this sash, emblazoned with the motto, ‘Votes for Women’. She is believed to have chained herself to church railings in Clifton to raise awareness of the campaign.

WSPU brooch

This brooch represents the Women’s Social and Political Union. Known as the Suffragettes, the WSPU campaigned for the right of women to vote. During the war, some Suffragettes called for conscription of men into the military and women into war service. Others campaigned for peace.

Annie Kenney (1879 – 1953)

Annie Kenney was a leading Suffragette and active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

She was born in Oldham and worked in a cotton mill from the age of 10. In 1905 she heard Christabel Pankhurst and Theresa Billington speak about Votes for Women. She was inspired to hold a meeting for women factory workers and spent the summer of 1905 speaking about women’s suffrage in Lancashire.

Annie was responsible for questioning politicians and unfurling ‘Votes for Women’ banners at public meetings, organising protests, and public speaking to attract recruits and funders to the WSPU.

In 1907 she became the organiser for the South West branch of the WSPU and was based in Bristol until October 1911.

She was arrested 13 times in the fight to secure women’s rights. When she recalled the day women won the vote in 1918, she said;

“Though I had no money I had reaped a rich harvest of joy, laughter, romance, companionship, and experience that no money can buy.”

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