Class Conflict in the Suffragette Movement


Suffragettes: The Fight for Votes for Women

Edited by Joyce Marlow

Virago Press (2000)

Book Review

This is a somewhat unconventional account of the 100 year battle British women fought to win the vote. As it relies on letters, diaries and newspaper accounts, it brings to light the individual personalities of various suffragette leaders and men who supported them. It also highlights interpersonal and political conflict that arose in the movement.

Much of the dissension arose because of class differences – often the solidly upper middle class leadership was out of touch with the thinking and needs of working women. There were also splits between women who engaged in property destruction (window breaking, fire setting and bombings) and those who advocated non-violence.

Prior to finding this book I was unaware of Queen Victoria’s absolute opposition to equal rights for women, nor the brutal and punitive forced nasogastric feeding imposed on suffragettes in prison. In their struggle to be recognized as political prisoners (and for general improvements in prison conditions), the women frequently engaged in hunger strikes when they were arrested.

It would be 1928 before British women finally won the right to vote on the same basis as men (at age 21). The Franchise Bill they fought for (and won) in 1918 only allowed women to vote when they reached age 30.

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