Votes for Women research

I re-read a study book about votes for women, wanting to find out more about why women wanted the vote, reasons for and against and the suffragette’s protests. I found out quite a lot about the movement.

 Reasons for the vote

Women wanted the vote, not just for political reasons, but because they believed it would end economic, social and moral unfair treatment they faced. They believed without the right to vote they were at a disadvantage, but with it their lives would be benefited, including improvement to marriage laws, sexual morals, it would also improve the lives of working class women and they believed that it would eliminate prostitution.


Cover of ‘The Suffragette’ Newspaper in 1913, supporting votes for women and showing it would be positive for working class women.


Reasons against the vote

A few ‘anti-suffrage’ quotes in the book, I found irritated me, over 100years later…

‘Men are governed by reason, Women by emotion’

‘Votes for Women? We shall be asked next to give votes to our horses and dogs.’

‘Women are guided by their wombs, rather than brains’

…Yes we live in a modern culture, but women are still women and shouldn’t have been treated as second class citizens. These quotes, even today are still very bitter and frustrating.

An argument against women being able to vote is that if they can’t fight and defend their country then they shouldn’t be able to vote either. Their role was seen to be a wife and mother. To give them the vote could ‘destroy’ family life and therefore destroy society, as the family was seen as a central part of society. The antis believed that women would challenge men’s authority and were unable to have an individual opinion. Women were perceived as too delicate to be involved with the dirtiness of politics and to be involved with it was believed to cause loss of the moral and social order of society.

The WSPU and militancy

After seeing slow progress and believing that politicians took little notice of the votes for women campaigns, the WSPU, (led by Emmeline Pankhurst) decided to go for a more militant approach, believing to gain the right to vote, force would be necessary.

Their forceful and militant actions included:

  • Smashing windows – originally done out of desperation, but became official policy
  • Setting fire to property/Arson attacks – not to cause harm to people but to protest against them, including David Lloyd George
  • Destruction of a postbox – by Emily Davidson
  • Destroying expensive works of art – including  Mary Richardson slashing ‘Venus’ by Velazquez, with an axe, to say people care more about paintings than people
  • Cut telegraph wires
  • Wrecked plants in Royal Botanical Garden at Kew
  • Chained themselves to railings in protest in the House of Commons and outside Downing Street
  • Hunger strikes
  • Imprisonment
  • Put themselves in danger of physical harassment

Some might say the Suffragette’s actions were more like minor terrorism than traditional political protest.


I think the Suffragettes were very extreme in their actions and some argue it hindered the cause, nether the less it was a difficult time and women were not treated fairly, but as second class citizens and these women stood up against this unfairness for what they believed was right and just.



  • Access to history: ‘Votes For Women’ by Paula Bartley (published by  Hodder Education, 2007)



The Personal is Political:

Gender in Private & Public Life in the 19th Century

I read an interesting article on the V&A website on politics and gender equality during the 19th Century (the period leading up to when my chosen object was made and defaced).

I was shocked to find the article state that in 1880, 23 years earlier, only men could freely go to bars, music halls and take part in most outdoor sports! Although during the 19th century laws had been passed in favour of women’s rights and removing gender injustices, this was a slow development in gender equality, which was (widely accepted as) a part of British Life.

Votes for Women was not a new demand in the 20th century, but one that had been expressed for over 50years! It was just that it now became a focus in the gender equality battle.




Women’s Suffrage… background research

‘Votes for women was a major breakthrough which affected the lives of all women in Britain.’

-Votes for Women (book)

We can look at the suffrage movement and see it as something of the past that has nothing to do with us, but because of the movement women can now vote and become MPs and do many things they wouldn’t have been able to do over 100years ago..

In the 19th century women’s rights were a lot different to mens. The law was more in favour of men’s rights and women were treated as second class citizens compared to them. This included matters such as: working hours, reasons for divorce, child custody and wages. Despite laws passing improving the inequalities women faced, they were still unequal to men in 1903.

Women didn’t just get paid much less than men, but weren’t allowed to have careers as doctors or lawyers.

– All this shows how being able to vote was much more than the vote, but about women wanting to be treated as equals to men.


The Suffragettes

The coin I have chosen was defaced by members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), The Suffragettes, who formed the same year my chosen object was defaced. Their well known motto was: “Deeds, not words”, meaning, that unlike the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), The Suffragists, they believed if violent protest and breaking the law was what it took to gain the vote, that’s what they would do. Formed by the Pankhurst family, the WSPU used propaganda and protest to fight for women’s rights, frustrated by the slow progress they had seen.


  • ‘Votes For Women’ by Diane Atkinson (published by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988)



Artefact Background Research

Why did women want the vote?

Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragettes:

‘First of all it is a symbol, secondly a safeguard, and thirdly an instrument.’

votes for women

Handbill given away by NUWSS and WSPU on ‘Why Women Want the Vote’


Why were men and women against women getting the vote?

They believed that politics would have a negative effect on women and that they would become less polite, respectful and ladylike. They thought that by being able to vote, women would lose interest in marriage and children, creating an issue for humanity. Women were seen as much more emotional, unstable and ignorant than men, so to be able to vote would be a big mistake.

Not just men, but many women agreed with these reasons opposing Women’s right to vote. Today these views come across as very absurd, but they were widely believed to be strong arguments against Women’s suffrage.



  • ‘Votes For Women’ by Diane Atkinson (published by Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988)

My Object

For the project we need to find a museum object of our choosing from any museums as long as it a)has a function and b)has a human connection attached to it…



About a month ago I went to the British Museum and there are all sorts of fascinating objects in there from different places in the world and different periods in time. It’s such an expansive museum, that I didn’t managed to see a lot of it, but I did browse online at the collections and artefacts they have on display. Some of the interesting things I found included a coin defaced by the suffragettes, a ring with the lords prayer written on it from the Stuart period, a Roman garden bench from Pompeii and a Roman display table, also from Pompeii. All these objects were man made, had a function, represented something of the culture and time they were from and had the potential to create an experience out of…



The object that fascinated me the most was the coin defaced by the suffragettes. The coin was minted in Britain in 1903 and has a very interesting history behind it. The suffragettes defaced many pennies in protest, to create a political statement as a campaigning strategy. This act of civil disobedience would have been treasonous at the time, but the suffragettes felt that to change the law they needed to break it. It was actually a very clever, low budget method of protest and propaganda at the time, as coins were a widely circulated, everyday object and used by all classes and types of people, including powerful men and politicians. Also being only worth 1p, the pennies were not worth enough to be recalled by the banks. It would have also created different emotions amongst people, including empathy for the cause, comfort for those women in support of women’s suffrage and shock and rage from others who opposed women’s rights to vote and purely saw it as a criminal act.  It is also interesting how the defaced side of the coin is the head, with King Edward VII’s face, but the tail, showing Britannia, who first appeared on British coins in the Roman times, a strong powerful woman has not been touched. The coin featured as part of the British Museum’s ‘The world in 100 Objects’, under the theme ‘Mass Production, Mass Persuasion’, clearly seen as an important part of our history, not just as a country, but as humanity.

There are quite a few aspects and concepts with this object that I can use to connect people to the object and create an experience. These are my initial ideas:

  • The coin is an ordinary, everyday object made extraordinary: it’s interesting how a small object can say and represent so much. It’s a powerful thing.
  • Coins were widely circulated at this time and still are today. The internet today, like the coin is used by all types of people, of different wealths and backgrounds and is the easiest way to widely circulate things.
  • Despite breaking the law, some argue that in some situations this is ok to do, for an important cause, like the Suffragette movement. Was it a moral or amoral thing to do?
  • The coin does not just represent the Suffragette movement and their struggles, but it represents all the revolutions, protests and wars at the time… all fighting for what they believed was right and the hardships faced by many during the 19th & 20th Centuries.
  • It reminds us that there are still many places where people are fighting for their civil human rights now. It’s not just representing the past, but also the present.
  • It connects us to OUR past. As a British woman it is a reminder of the struggle many women faced for ‘me’, so that 100years later I could vote (something we may take for granted).