There has been a lot of information in the press this week as it is the 100th anniversary of women over the age of 30 getting the vote. I want to consider how this affected our ancestors.
The Women’s social and political union was established in 1903 by Emmerline Pankhurst, nee Goulden(1858 – 1928) and her daughters Christabel (1880 – 1958) and Sylvia (really name Estelle, 1882 – 1960).
The group started out peacefully campaigning for votes for women but by 1905 women were being arrested for public order offences and not paying fines they had been given for minor offences. One of the first to be arrested was Christabel for interrupting a meeting of the Liberal Party. She refused to pay her fine so she went to prison. After 1905 things started to escalate as women began to chain themselves to railings and broke windows. The acts got worse as they began to set fire to post boxes and even used small bombs. This led to more women being imprisoned and some began to refuse food through a hunger strike. These women were forced fed using brutal techniques. In 1913 Emily Davison died when she fell under a horse owned by the King at the Derby. It’s thought she was trying to stop the race to promote the cause. The cause continued the use of criminal acts until the outbreak of World War 1 when the women focused on the war effort. In February 1918 the vote was granted to all women over the age of 30 who owned property and all men over the age of 21. This meant 8.4 million people got the vote in the UK. This lead to Christabel standing for parliament in December 1918, although she didn’t gain the seat.
So how can you tell if you had a suffragette in your family? Well unless they went to jail or we high up in the organisation it is unlikely you can know for sure but you can find clues.
The first clue is if your female ancestors were not on the 1911 census. Many of the women felt this was a good way to voice their protest. They refused to answer the questions on the census as they felt if they were not allowed to vote then why should they take part in the census. A note of caution though as this wasn’t always the case as some women may simply have not been at home.
A second method is to look at the ages of your ancestors. This will help you narrow down as to whether there was a chance they were involved. For example my great grandmother on my maternal line were both born in 1878 so would have been 25 when the union was formed, but my great grandmothers on my paternal line would only have been 7 and 3 so they would not have been involved. So with that line maybe their mother’s and aunts were as well as much older sisters?
Suffragette artefacts may also hold answers. We all have a box somewhere in the family which holds all the small items passed down through the generation and the key may be within it. You may find the holy grail and have letters or diaries belonging to you suffragette ancestors which shows you what they did for the cause. Jewellery can be a great indicator of involvement or support to the women. The movement used the colours green, purple and white. So if you have a broach or pendent say which has these colours on it there is a chance it is a suffragette piece. This doesn’t automatically mean they original owners were suffragettes, they may have purchased it later without knowing the significance. You may also find other items which were sold to raise money for the cause. On an antique programme I saw a pair of salt and pepper shakers in the style of a woman carrying a sandwich board encouraging “Vote for Women”.
So we many never truly know if our ancestors were part of the Suffragette movement but we can see which of them could potentially have been. And in the end not matter what in 1928 all women over the age of 21 got the vote in line with men.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!