2019 – the centenary-plus-one of women being given the right to vote in Britain. Or, as Helen Broadhead, in suffragette colours of green, white and violet, reminded U3A Todmorden on 18th July, a right for some women – those who were 30 or older and only if they, or their husbands, were ratepayers.
All men over 21 had been accorded the vote in the Representation of the People Act in 1918, but women had to wait until 1928 before Parliament saw fit to offer them the same right.
With these anomalies and, to us, now, bizarre injustices in mind, Helen launched into an extensive broadside about the women’s suffrage movement and some local and regional heroines in the suffrage struggle.
She began by drawing a careful distinction between the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), who were law-abiding, and Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), who were prepared to and did break the law to achieve their ends.
However, Helen pointed out that suffragists had been active on a broad front for some time before the surge of activity at the turn of the 19th century. It not till 1906 that ‘suffragette’ was coined.
The Daily Mail, which supported the peaceful NUWSS, used it to describe the actions of those associated with the WSPU, whose militancy it disapproved of.
The WSPU then adopted the word as a badge of honour.
But as early as 1841, the Female Chartist Association had lent their weight to the campaign for increased male suffrage. This process activated women’s interest in political action. In 1866, for example, Emily Davies was urging John Stuart Mill to change ‘man’ to ‘person’ in Disraeli’s Great Reform Bill of the following year in order to open the vote to women.
By 1869, women ratepayers had been given voting rights in municipal elections, and the same year women packed St George’s Hall in Bradford during a by-election to back the Liberal candidate who promised support for women’s suffrage.
By now, figures with a prominent profile were emerging to promote female suffrage. Catherine Salt (married to Titus Jnr.) and her Salt’s Ladies supported the Third Reform Bill of 1884.
Other names memorialised in Helen’s talk included Julia Varley, an early union member in Bradford, Isabella Ford, a Leeds socialist, and Annie
Kenney who was taken under the wing of Christabel Pankhurst herself.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the afternoon was Helen’s mentioning a Hebden woman, Mary Gawthorpe, a WSPU activist who remarked that she was ‘expected to make herself useless by ignoring things that matter.’
Thank goodness she, and many other suffragettes and suffragists did not, and thank you to Helen for keeping the history of this movement alive.
Our next meeting
U3A Todmorden’s next members’ meeting will be on Thursday, August 15th, 2019 in the Central Methodist Church Hall in Todmorden at 1.45. Our guest speaker will be Dr Diana Leitch who will be talking about ‘The Science of Chocolate’.