Suffragette… what?

The word Suffragette is not a very comon word in Sweden. Not that we didn’t had them, but we use the word “Kvinnorättskämpar” (fighters for womens rights) – which is exactly the same thing.

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Not only are the word unusual, but most of the swedish public don’t know about the history of  “Kvinnokämparna”. Sure, most people know when women got the vote here (1921), surprisingly late for such a liberal country, but there is seldom a thought spared for the women who fought this “war” for there and our freedom.

I must admit of being one of those ignorants until recently, but have of late taken great interest in the matter.

It started about a year ago when I first saw this video.

After waching it about 5 times in a row, I searched the internet for hours after information about the brave women who came to be called “Suffragetts” by the world.

And now I think it’s time to share the knowledge, and hopefully gain a few more “Kvinnorättskämpar” in the process.

And since wikipedia says it so much better then I ever could:

Suffragettes were members of women’s organization (right to vote) movements in the late 19th and early 20th century, particularly in the United Kingdom and United States. Suffragist is a more general term for members of suffrage movements, whether radical or conservative, male or female.”

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“Origins: The term “suffragette” was first used as a term of derision by the journalist Charles E. Hands in the London Daily Mail for activists in the movement for women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom. But the objects of the intended ridicule gladly embraced the term saying “suffraGETtes” (hardening the g) implied not only that they wanted the vote, but that they intended to get it as well.”

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“British suffragettes were mostly women from upper and middle-class backgrounds, frustrated by their social and economic situation. Their struggles for change within society, were enough to spearhead a movement that would encompass mass groups of women fighting for suffrage.”

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“New Zealand was the first self-governing country to grant women the right to vote; in 1893 all women over the age of 21 were permitted to vote in parliamentary elections. In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst founded a organisation in England, the Women’s Social and Political Union, who thought that the movement would have to become radical and militant if it was going to be effective.”

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“1912 was a turning point for the British suffragettes as they turned to using more militant tactics such as chaining themselves to railings, setting fire to mailbox contents, smashing windows and occasionally detonating bombs. This was because the Prime Minister at the time, Asquith, nearly signed a document giving women the right to vote,  but pulled out at the last minute.”

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“One suffragette, Emily Davison, died under the King’s horse Anmer at the Epsom Derby of June 4, 1913 while she was trying to pin a “Vote for Women” banner on the King’s horse.”

Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison throws herself under King George V's horse Anmer at Epsom

Inprisonment: In the early twentieth century, approximately one thousand suffragettes were imprisoned in Britain, most of them for offenses of the public order and failures to pay outstanding fines.”

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“The Women’s Social and Political Union(WSPU) campaigned to get imprisoned suffragettes recognized as political prisoners. However, this campaign was largely unsuccessful. Citing a fear that the suffragettes becoming political prisoners would make for easy martyrdom.”

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Hunger strikes: Following the refusal for suffragettes to be recognised as political prisoners, many suffragettes began to stage hunger strikes while they were imprisoned. The first woman to stage a hunger strike was Marion Wallace Dunlop, a militant suffragette who was sentenced to be imprisoned for a month in Holloway for vandalism in July 1909. Dunlop refused food as a protest for being denied political prisoner status; following a 91-hour hunger strike, and for fear of her becoming a martyr for the suffragette cause, the Home Secretary made the decision to release her early on medical grounds.”

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“Soon, it became a common practice for suffragettes to refuse food in protest to not being designated as political prisoners, and as a result they would be released after a few days and return to the “fighting line”.”

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“Militant suffragette demonstrations subsequently became more aggressive, and the British Government took action. Unwilling to release all the suffragettes staging hunger strikes in prison, in the autumn of 1909, the authorities began to adopt more drastic measures to manage the hunger-striking suffragettes.”

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“Suffragettes became a liability because if they were to die in the prison’s custody the prison would be responsible for their death, and as a result, prisons began the practice of force feeding the suffragettes through a tube, most commonly a nostril or stomach tube or a stomach pump. Many women found the process painful, and after the practice was observed and studied by several physicians, it was deemed to have both short-term damage to the circulatory system, digestive system and nervous system and long term damage to the physical and mental health of the suffragettes.”

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“In early 1913 the WSPU instituted a society of women known as “The Bodyguard” whose role was to physically protect Emmeline Pankhurst and other prominent Suffragettes from arrest and assault. Members of the Bodyguard participated in several violent actions against the police in defence of their leaders.”

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“World war: With the commencement of the First World War, the suffragette movement in Britain moved away from suffrage activities and focused the efforts of their organizations on the war effort, and as a result, hunger strikes largely stopped. The suffragettes’ focus on war work turned public opinion in favour of their eventual partial enfranchisement in 1918.”

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“The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, which had always employed “constitutional” methods, continued to lobby during the war years, and compromises were worked out between the NUWSS and the coalition government. On 6 February, The Representation of the People Act 1928 allowed voting franchise to all women over the age of 21, granting women the vote on the same terms that men had gained ten years earlier.”

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“Colours: From 1908 the WSPU adopted the colour scheme of purple, white and green: purple symbolised dignity, white purity, and green hope. These three colours were used for banners, flags, rosettes and badges, They also would carry heart shaped vesta cases, and appeared in newspaper cartoons and postcards.”

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“Also, it is a popular myth that the colours were green, white, and violet, in order to spell GWV as an acronym for “Give Women Votes”.”

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“Popular cuture:

  • The character of Mrs. Banks in the 1964 Disney musical film Mary Poppins sings the song Sister Suffragette in celebration of the suffrage movement.
  • The 2004 film Iron Jawed Angels portrays events in the American suffrage movement circa 1910, concentrating on the suffrage careers of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns.
  • The women’s suffrage movement is the basis of an on-going subplot in the 2013 television drama series Mr. Selfridge and in individual episodes of the series Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey.
  • The song “Jet” by Paul McCartney
  • The song “Suffragette City” by David Bowie”

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 You can read a lot more on the subject on both wikipedia and many other sites on internet.

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