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Independent WSPU

Independent WSPU


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On 4th August, 1914, England declared war on Germany. The leadership of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) immediately began negotiating with the British government. On the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort.

Emmeline Pankhurst announced that all militants had to "fight for their country as they fought for the vote." Ethel Smyth pointed out in her autobiography, Female Pipings for Eden (1933): "Mrs Pankhurst declared that it was now a question of Votes for Women, but of having any country left to vote in. The Suffrage ship was put out of commission for the duration of the war, and the militants began to tackle the common task."

Annie Kenney reported that orders came from Christabel Pankhurst: "The Militants, when the prisoners are released, will fight for their country as they have fought for the Vote." Kenney later wrote: "Mrs. Pankhurst, who was in Paris with Christabel, returned and started a recruiting campaign among the men in the country. This autocratic move was not understood or appreciated by many of our members. They were quite prepared to receive instructions about the Vote, but they were not going to be told what they were to do in a world war."

After receiving a £2,000 grant from the government, the WSPU organised a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as "We Demand the Right to Serve", "For Men Must Fight and Women Must work" and "Let None Be Kaiser's Cat's Paws". At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men.

Ada Nield Chew was completely against this policy: "The militant section of the movement... would without doubt place itself in the trenches quite cheerfully, if allowed. It is now ... demanding, with all its usual pomp and circumstance of banner and procession, its share in the war. This is an entirely logical attitude and strictly in line with its attitude before the war. It always glorified the power of the primitive knock on the nose in preference to the more humane appeal to reason.... What of the others? The non-militants - so-called - though bitterly repudiating militancy for women, are as ardent in their support of militancy for men as their more consistent and logical militant sisters."

Several members of the WSPU agreed with this view and on 21st March 1916 they formed the Independent WSPU. Charlotte Marsh became its honorary secretary and they issued a newspaper, Independent Suffragette until 1917.


Watch the video: Womens Suffrage. What was the National Union of Womens Suffrage Societies? (January 2023).

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