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Suffragette

From Academic Kids

Suffragette with banner, Washington DC, 1918
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Suffragette with banner, Washington DC, 1918

The title of suffragette was given to members of the women's suffrage movement in the United Kingdom and United States, particularly in the years prior to World War I. The name was the Women's Social and Political Union (founded in 1903). The word was originally coined to describe a more radical faction of the suffrage movement in the U.K. Suffragist is a more general term for members of the movement, whether radical or conservative.

The term suffragette tends to connote acts of defiance, protest, self-sacrifice and sometimes violence. Suffragettes carried out such minor offences as chaining themselves to railings, setting fire to the contents of mailboxes and window-smashing. One suffragette, Emily Davison, died after she stepped out in front of the King's horse at the Epsom Derby of 1913. Many of her fellow suffragettes were imprisoned and went on hunger strikes, during which they were restrained and forcibly fed.

The so-called Cat and Mouse Act was passed by the British government in an attempt to prevent suffragettes from obtaining public sympathy—it provided the release of those whose's hunger strikes had brought them sickness, aswell as their re-imprisonment once they had recovered.

Nevertheless, protests continued on both sides of the Atlantic. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns led a series of protests against the Wilson Administration in Washington that referred to "Kaiser Wilson" and compared the plight of the German people with that of American women (see picture).

During World War I a serious shortage of men ("manpower") occurred, and women were required to take on many of the traditional male roles. This led to a new view of what a woman was capable of doing. Political movement towards women's suffrage began during the war and in 1918, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed an act granting the vote to women over the age of 30 who were householders; the wives of householders; occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5; or graduates of British universities. The right of American women to vote was codified in the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. Women in the United Kingdom got the vote on the same terms as men in 1928.

Overall, the significance of the suffragettes is unclear. The "constitutional" suffragists (who worked through legal means) were a far larger movement, had been working for much longer, and had steadily increased parliamentary and public support for change. The question of whether the high-profile shock tactics of the suffragettes speeded up the final victory, or set it back, is impossible to resolve with certainty, but there is certainly evidence for the latter. In British popular memory, however, there is no dispute: the boring, mass-membership suffragists have been almost totally forgotten, leaving the suffragettes the only claimants for credit.

See also

fr:Suffragette pl:Sufrażystka sv:Suffragetter

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