Women’s Suffrage & Suffragettes: Collections
The history of women’s suffrage is long and imperfect, filled with important milestones and female trailblazers. In the United Kingdom and the United States, that history begins in the early nineteenth century and can be traced through the unique materials available in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive.
In the UK, the campaign for women’s suffrage began with suffragists, such as the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies founder Millicent Fawcett, who focused on peaceful methods, such as lobbying, public speaking, and publishing on women’s issues to advocate for women’s rights. The work of these women, however, is frequently overshadowed by the more violent suffragettes, whose antics regularly placed them in the public eye. Frustrated by the lack of progress, from 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union, led by Emmeline Pankhurst, decided that more direct action was needed. Initially, their tactics involved disruption and civil disobedience, but this soon devolved into violence and lawbreaking, which in turn led to imprisonment and hunger strikes. Women like Marion Wallace-Dunlop, the first to undergo a hunger strike in 1909; Emily Wilding Davison, who ran in front of the king’s horse; and Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, are remembered for their involvement in the movement. The work of both groups led to the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which allowed some women over the age of 30 to vote, but it wasn’t until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women were fully extended the same voting rights as men.
The United States had an equally long and turbulent history when it came to giving women the right to vote. The most well-recognized starting point was the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, the first women’s rights convention in the United States, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. The work of other key female trailblazers, such as Susan B. Anthony, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Alice Paul, whose National Woman’s Party employed on more radical, militant tactics, eventually led to the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920: the single largest extension of democratic voting rights in American history. Yet the Nineteenth Amendment only prevented discrimination in voting based on sex, women from racial minorities remained disenfranchised. It wasn’t until 1965, and the Voting Rights Act, that racial discrimination in voting became legally prohibited.
This history of women’s suffrage has been paralleled in countries across the globe and, in many instances, it took well over 100 years for women to truly get the vote, with many governments restricting suffrage based on race, wealth, or education long after they had made discriminating in voting based on gender illegal. This century of advocacy and campaigning, both constitutionally and through more direct action, can be thoroughly explored through the periodicals and papers included in Gale’s Women’s Studies Archive.