Thishistoriographical essay, shall focus on how the suffragettes helped women win the vote.
Historiography is the study of how different historians have studied an area ofacademic discipline, and then comparing the different types of historicalresearch each historian has used to gain their overall understanding on thetopic1. This helps to see biases and ideologies abouthistorical topics. The titles I have chosen show how women in the suffragettes campaigneddifferently for the vote and follow a chronological order of publication, to helpsee an order of events. The titles explore significant points in the fight forthe vote; from when Mary Smith presented the first petition to parliament in1832, to 1903 when Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women’s social and politicalunion (WSPU), later known as the suffragettes, world war 1 starting in 1913, to1917 when the vote was given to women over 30 and finally when the amendment ofthe Representation of the people act was passed in 1928 which gave all womenand men the vote over the age of 21. NoSurrender2,by Constance Maud, was a pioneering author for the WSPU. The book was writtenat the pinnacle of the fight for the women’s vote, therefore the authenticityof the novel for the reader is guaranteed. The accuracy of the novel was alsoreaffirmed in 1912 when Emily Davison, another significant woman in the fight stated,- ‘the book breathes the very spirit of our women’s movement.’ The Novel isbased on Fictional characters, but follows real women’s stories in major turningpoints in their fight to the vote.
The lead protagonist, Jenny Clegg is a millworker, with a life of drudgery due to male expectation of her retrospectiverole as a woman. However due to a great passion in the Votes for women’sleague, her life becomes full of political activism when she encounters MaryO’Neil, the Mill owner’s daughter. The book follows the women’s drive throughpolitical protests, the fights against oppositions and lastly includes adistressing scene where Mary was force fed by prison guards, which depicts the vastextent suffrage women went through being ‘political prisoners.
‘ Thebook sensitively portrays the treatment and campaigns of the suffragettes ingaining the vote. However, due to being written before the vote was granted itdoes not give an overview picture of how the vote was won in the end, thereforenot covering the whole fight to equality. Sylvia Pankhurst’s part bibliography and part historynovel ‘The Suffragette Movement,’3 followsher tormenting experiences of imprisonment, hunger strikes, force feeding, thecat and mouse act and chronicles of how the suffragettes won the vote againstthe liberal government of the day.
It reveals how the advocates of the women’ssuffrage became ‘polarized into mutually antagonistic factions,’ fromconservatives to Sylvia finally becoming a far left political participant. SylviaPankhurst was a revolutionary, feminist, communist and political activist atthe time of women gaining the vote and the book was written just 3 years afterthe Vote was won, concluding it to be a true account of what happened withbroad details. The past memoir and historical novel depicts the struggles,Sylvia and her sisters faced when founding the militant organization, WSPU in1906 to when Sylvia broke off from this to form the East London Federation ofsuffragettes in 1914. It shows the personality clashes within the family and otherleaders and groups who fought for the vote- such as the suffragists, who usedless forceful methods to gain the vote such as peaceful protests. It explainshow the Suffragette movement gained the phrase ‘Deeds not Words,’ by explainingtheir radical approach of stone throwing, tying themselves to parliamentaryfences, arson and physical confrontation with authorities.
At the end of thebook, she explains how the government finally granted women the vote, howeverthe fight for equality was still not won shown through the words, ‘Great is thework which remains to be accomplished.’ This book is useful for the full analysis of how the vote was won, as itcovers a range of one hundred years and includes a range of sources such as;letters, News articles and quotations from speeches given by the women 4. However,it is bias towards the Pankhurst’s fight and not others that adjoined thestruggle in the suffragettes. The BBC Audio Archive, published in 1993, comprises ofSylvia Pankhurst talking about her mother’s fight5.The archive describes Emmeline’s first encounter into her strive into gaining asocialist society, was when she joined her husband Richard Pankhurst (anotherleading suffragette supporter) in his bill to gain women the right to ownproperty and widowed Mothers the right to be the legal guardians to theirchildren. After joining the independent labour party, 9 years later, she formedthe Women’s social and political union in 1903, which was then named thesuffragettes, which ‘took whatever steps which might prove necessary, Legal orillegal, to obtain the parliamentary vote for women.
” The tape explains of theextreme frustrated efforts Emmeline experiences for half a century, including83 by-elections and contested 90 constituencies in the 1910 elections. It alsoentails Emmeline’s four imprisonments from six weeks to nine months. The mainadvantage of this source is that it provides memoirs directly from the Pankhurstfamily (an imperative family in the suffragette fight), which will not bedocumented elsewhere, forming its uniqueness. It also portrays the strongemotions in the Pankhurst family, which will stimulate the personal involvementof the reader. However, it also has disadvantages as a primary source, asSylvia and Emmeline Pankhurst were both directly involved in the fight towardswomen’s equality in voting, therefore it is very bias in accounts of whathappened and lacks critical distance. Also, neither Sylvia and Emmeline are nolonger living, thus cannot be referred for authentication on the interspersedfacts involved.
‘Unshackled’by Christabel Pankhurst published in 19596shows how one of the most influential political leaders strode for politicaland constitutional liberty by helping win women the vote. It talks of how herfamily set up the WSPU in 1903 and how she gained a law degree in 1907. Itexplored the ways in which the militant group fought for the vote throughantagonistic ways which led to her having to flee to France to avoid arrestuntil after 1914 when the WSPU agreed to use less aggressive ways of protest.It then goes on to explore how she founded ‘The Women’s Party’ in 1917 whichrequested; equal pay for work, equal marriage and divorce laws and a system ofmaternity benefits amongst many another equality rights. The difference of thisbook compared to different historians account which have been explored above,is that it includes information about the Men’s Political Union for Women’sSuffrage impact on helping gaining the vote also.
It describes of one maleparticipant sliding up a pillar in a political conference to display asuffragette banner above two authoritative cabinet ministers. The mainadvantage to this title is the usage of pictures. This engages the readerfurther and creates a visual snapshot at what is happening at the time.However, readers may interpret pictures differently, which results inmisleading information. Shoulder to Shoulder, by Midge Mackenzie7, (whowas a well-known film maker and writer during the period of the suffragettesand partnered with the BBC to dramatise the fight for equality through a TVseries and book in 1974), covers the period of the 1890’s to 1919. It particularlyconsiders how the Pankhurst family influenced the suffrage movement such as:Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia and Richard Pankhurst, but does also give abroader view of how the suffragettes helped gain the vote. Alike the book,Before the vote was won, the book is formed of a range of excerpts fromspeeches, diaries, letters, memoirs, photographs and cartoons from influentialbodies in the political fight. It however strengthens from being full of originalsources that help the reader visualise what happened by documenting pictures ofall the militant protests the suffragettes carried out such as; hunger, thirstand sleep strikes, protests through the streets of downtown London and whenEmily Davison threw herself in front of the Kings horse at the Derby.
It haslittle commentary which can be seen as a disadvantage, as all readers mayinterpret the events shown in a different way. Before the vote was won: Arguments forand against women’s suffrage by Jane Lewis8 is acollection of articles, papers, speeches and pamphlets which document thearguments of early suffragists in the period of 1864-1896 which is comprisedinto a four-part series. It follows stories on women in the fight for the votesuch as Lydia Becker, Millicent Garret Fawcett and Elizabeth Wolstoneholme, andportrays their battle against the never-ending hostility from male politicianswho firmly believed a woman’s place was to be at home and raise the childrenthrough a range of sources. The book begins with the first proposal of Women’s enfranchisementin the section, The Womens Journal in 1861, it also includes texts of the 1871House of Commons debate on the Women’s Disabilities Bill and the 1892 Women’sfranchise bill. Another factor which makes this title an outstanding source onhow women won the vote is that it includes sources by those who opposed againstthe suffrage leagues such as Mrs Humphry Ward, John Bright M.
P. and Gladstone. Anotheradvantage of this source is that due to it focusing on the period before theheight of the Pankhurst family, it allows for other perspectives from otherpolitical bodies in the fight for the vote to be heard by the reader, such asMillicent Fawcett who was a political activist in women’s rights for 33 years. However, this book only covers thelast three decades of the nineteenth century and it was another 26 years beforethe vote was won, therefore the book leaves out key information about thebattle for the vote such as the militant, suffragettes and peaceful,suffragists. Thetitles in this essay all use a wide variety of sources to help gain achronological idea of how suffrage women helped win the vote. The titlesinclude different methods in which women used for equality and even show howmen helped the suffrage.
The titles also allow to see the views of theopposition and what the women faced in their battle. However, it can be arguedthat all the authors in this historiography essay are female, so therefore mayhave a sympathetic attitude towards the suffragettes, painting a positive lightupon them in gaining the vote, therefore making them the sole reason forgaining the vote and not considering ideas such as the suffragists or World War1. The Books included in this essay cover the period from when the fightstarted in 1832 and when it was won in 1928- therefore giving the retrospectivereader a whole and conclusive historiography of how women won the vote. However,it is inevitable that, as time goes on and when more information comes tolight, new sources will change stories of the movement. However, as quoted bySyliva Pankhurst,’ successive generations of historians would write and rewritethe story of the movement but her book would, in nature of things, alwaysremain one of their major sources.’9