Uncompromising women: the fight for the vote

2018 marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act; a law which gave the vote to certain women in Britain, as long as they were over 30 and met a property qualification. Ten years later, women achieved the same voting rights as men. We are also celebrating the 40 year anniversary of female undergraduates being admitted to Trinity College. To honour this landmark year of anniversaries, we have compiled a display highlighting a few of our items relating to women’s suffrage drawn from the Pethick-Lawrence Collection.

Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence

Vehement socialist, Emmeline Pethick met Trinity alumnus, Frederick Lawrence in 1900.

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After Emmeline denied him marriage a number of times due to her deeply rooted socialism, Frederick began to move left in his political view. The pair married in 1901, combining their names, and soon became major figures in the fight for women’s suffrage.

The Pethick-Lawrences got involved with the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), an organisation founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters in 1903. However, the WSPU tended towards an extreme and violent approach to attaining the vote for women, which led to the incarceration of both Pethick-Lawrences.

This letter from Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence to the WSPU, written from Holloway prison, emphasises her pride in the union, and describes how comforting it is that her prison uniform is green and white, and her library card “faintly purplish”, the same colours that represent the suffrage movement. The choice of these colours for the organisation is attributed to Emmeline.

 

 

Constance Lytton

Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton (known as Constance Lytton) was an influential British activist and writer in support of suffrage, prison reform and birth control. She is best known for revealing class prejudice in the treatment of imprisoned suffragettes.

Lady Constance was well treated in prison, but when incarcerated under the pseudonym ‘Jane Warton’, a less wealthy suffragette, she had her teeth broken, and was forcibly fed to the point that permanent damage was done to her heart.

 

This note written by Lady Constance highlights her passionate opinion on the necessity of violent protest.

Millicent Garrett Fawcett

Millicent Garrett Fawcett, suffragist and political leader, who was recently immortalised as a statue that faces Westminster Palace in London, was pioneering in the fight for the right to vote. At 20 years old, Millicent was deemed too young to sign the 1866 petition, but went on to dedicate the rest of her life to attaining votes for women. She died in 1929, only a year after women achieved the same voting rights as men.

In this letter to Lady Constance, Millicent suggests that she is trying to enlist the help of influential men in her campaign for suffrage, such as soon-to-be Prime Minister, David Lloyd George.

 

 

Christabel Pankhurst

Daughter of known radical Emmeline Pankhurst, Christabel Pankhurst wrote this letter to Lady Constance, criticising various powerful men for not doing more to help the cause. She comments on the indignation of suffragettes being incarcerated and abused for such things as “inciting speeches”, while the militant movement in Ulster cost thousands of lives, but the men responsible were walking free.

Christabel’s final words of this letter embody her lively and forthright personality, and confidence in the suffrage movement:

“Thank-goodness we can win without [men] anyhow […] Women winning their own freedom. Glorious thought!”