The popular view says that in 1914 the campaign for Women’s suffrage was suspended and the Suffragettes and Suffragists turned their efforts towards supporting the war effort, in the process winning enough support in Parliament to gain the vote (although with a property requirement at first). As this book demonstrates the reality was far more complex than that. Before the outbreak of war the campaign for women’s suffrage was split into a multitude of different groups, each with a different approach. There was a general split between the militant Suffragettes, who have since become the most famous wing of the movement and the constitutionalist Suffragists. Less well known are the anti-suffrage Women’s movements, which also involved some remarkable women, many of whom went on to make valuable contributions during the war (although it is satisfying ironic to learn that one of the early leaders resigned of the patronising attitude of the male leader appointed to her organisation).
The author is careful to avoid the claim that this war work won women the vote. It undoubtably helped win over many of the doubters (as did the end of the militant campaign, which had alienated many). However a big contributing factor appears to have been the replacement of Asquith, who was a dedicated opponent of women’s suffrage, by Lloyd George, who had supported it for most of his career (even if he hadn’t already voted that way before the war)
We start with a brief introduction to the suffrage movement and its opponents, looking at how the process of campaigning gave many of the women covered here the skills they would use during the war. After that we move onto a series of biographies, looking at the very varied experiences of suffrage and anti-suffrage campaigns. We soon get some idea of just how varied this could be. Chapter two includes women who joined the wartime Women Police Volunteers, someone who was jailed for plotting to assassinate Asquith (almost certainly incorrectly) and an Irish nationlist who took part in the Easter uprising of 1916! Later chapters look at the actions of anti-suffrage campaigners, and anti-war peace campaigns.
For those who worked to support the war effort the range of activities is impressive. Some used their medical skills, running hospitals for the British, French and Serbs. Others worked for the new female branches of the armed forces.We get campaigns for the Allied cause and entertainers who led the First World War version of ENSA. Many suffered from ill health as a result of their efforts. Ironically the same press that had attacked the suffrage campaigners before the war lauded them for their wartime actions.
This is a fascinating selection of biographies, providing a valuable cross section of the wartime experiences of suffrage and anti-suffrage campaigners, covering a range of extraordinary people.
1 - Getting ready to fight a bigger battle
2 - Hunger for Change
3 - Deeds not Words
4 - Votes for Women? No Thanks!
5 - I tried to stop the bloody thing!
6 - At No Cost to the Govermnet
Conclusion: Dreams (Un)fulfilled
Author: Vivien Newman
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military