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Suffrage Movement (Enter the New Woman #AtoZChallenge 2022)

S (AtoZ Challenge 2022) Enter the New Woman - Suffragette

The suffrage movement began their agitations for women’s rights in the first half of the 1800s, but it was after 1900 that the fight became more fierce. From this movement soon arose a broader understanding of women’s equality: Feminism.

The fight for women’s rights, particularly for the right to vote, occurred throughout the Western World between the mid-19th and very early 20th centuries. Yet it was always particularly fierce and visible in the Unites States – where these women were called suffragists – and the United Kingdom – where they were called suffragettes. 

These movements were born in the first half of the 1800s, but only during the New Woman’s historical arc did they find their maturity. 
Initially, these movements didn’t just focus on the vote but demanded general women’s rights and equality, such as larger and equal access to education and employment. Equality was sought inside the marriage too, where married women should have been able to control their property and wages without their husband’s interference and have control over their own body. They also sought custody of their children whether or not incomprehension with their husbands arose. 
But as time passed, the fight increasingly moved towards specifically demanding the vote. 

The women’s rights movement in the United States and the United Kingdom had many commonalities but also some quite important differences. 

Suffrage Movement (Enter the New Woman #AtoZChallenge 2022) The suffrage movement and feminism (a new word coined in the 1910s), though very similar, were definitely not the same thing #WomenHistory Click To Tweet

The suffrage movement in the United States

Pinterest pin. The text reads, "Enter the New Woman - Suffragette". The picture shows a vintage photo of the suffrage movement section from Connecticut, probably around the 1900s. Five women appear in it holding a banner.

In the United States, the movement arose from the 1800s Abolitionist movement and, indeed, in the beginning, mostly demanded women/men equality. But after the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution gave African American men the right to vote, the movement’s efforts refocused on giving women the same right. Women’s suffrage became then the chief goal of most women’s organisations. 
The American suffrage movement was always quite diverse because it included women from all walks of life and different origins. Every single group had their attitude and interests. 

Some white middle-class activists, for example, hoped to use suffrage as a tool for maintaining white supremacy and class privilege. 

On the other hand, African American suffragists used the movement as a way to challenge racism. They demanded the vote not only for African American women but also for African American men whose access to the vote was shrinking. Contrary to American society, the African American community was generally in favour of their women gaining the right to vote. Suffragists mainly focused on challenging general racial stereotypes and presenting themselves as worthy human beings rather than vote-deserving women. 

Working-class women, particularly in the Jewish community, saw the fight for the vote as just a part of a greater effort in labour unions, where they asked for equality for women in the workplace. 

American women gained the vote in 1920, the same year Prohibition – another cause supported by women – was passed. 

The Suffrage movement in the United Kingdom

A portrait of Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst

The British suffrage movement was more cohesive and definitively more militant. Particularly in the very first years of the 20th century, British suffragettes, led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), regularly demonstrated in the streets and used theatrical actions to draw attention to the cause. Suffragettes became known for their extreme actions, all designed to get their demands in the paper and start larger debates. They tried everything to make themselves heard: they chained themselves to buildings, heckled politicians, broke store windows, planted explosive devices and engaged in other destructive activities that often had them arrested. But they used even this as a weapon. In jail, many suffragettes engaged in hunger strikes which often forced prison officials to forced-feed them. This would prevent them from dying for the cause but still raised a lot of agitation in the press. Between 1908 and 1914, more than 1000 women were imprisoned and force-fed.

The movement’s agitation completely stopped when WWI broke out because their every action turned to support the patriotic effort. Before the war was over, in 1918, British women over 30 finally gained the right to vote. 

Feminism

Feminist was a new word that entered the American vernacular around 1911-12 and designated a woman that demanded equality for women in all aspects of life, not just regarding the right to vote.

While most feminists were suffragists, not all suffragists were feminists. Even while fighting for the right to vote, many women still thought that some places were not supposed to be for women, both in social and working life. The feminist’s position, especially concerning equality, was often far more radical than a suffragist’s view. 

Marie Jenny Howe, a self-identified feminist, argued in a 1914 New Review article: “Feminism is not limited to any one cause or reform. It strives for equal rights, equal laws, equal opportunity, equal wages, equal standards, and a whole new world of human equality.” Feminists didn’t just want women to have the right to vote. They strived to change society completely, the very minds of men and women, to create a more equal, therefore happier, world. They often assumed far more radical positions than suffragists in all matters, including fashion. 

Feminists were often bohemians who advocated the importance of personality and the uniqueness of every person. Contrary to suffragists, who used fashion to conform themselves to a mainstream view of women, feminists thought that fashion should reflect the individuality of every woman as well as be comfortable and rational. 

Feminism always placed the individual, and the freedom and respect for the individual, at the centre. Everything else would come as a consequence. 

Bohemians of the Greenwich Village


RESOURCES

History – 7 Things You Might Not Know About the Women’s Suffrage Movement
A Century of Women – 1910-1920
National Women’s History Museum – Feminism: The First Wave
United States HOuse of Representatives – History, Arts and Archives – The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848–1917
American History – New Women in Early 20th-Century America
The Dream Book Blog – More Than Just a Gibson Girl: The New Woman


10 Comments

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 22, 2022 at 14:01

    Another great post that put a smile on my face 🙂

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 27, 2022 at 21:14

      Happy you liked it 🙂
      I loved researching it.

  • Liam Sullivan
    Posted April 22, 2022 at 21:02

    I don’t think I realized the word “feminist” went back so far.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 27, 2022 at 21:16

      I discovered thourhg my research that many many words we used every day were originally form the 1910s and 1920s. And WWI.

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 24, 2022 at 08:27

    It is interesting to see the two movements parallel to each other! I just recently started reading about how this happened in Hungary…
    The Multicolored Diary

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 27, 2022 at 21:21

      You know? I kind of never thought they were two different groups. I mean, it seems so natural that they should go together.
      But I really enjoyed readign about their differences.

  • Pradeep
    Posted April 26, 2022 at 07:05

    This definitely was one of the most important developments in the evolution of human rights.
    S = So

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 27, 2022 at 21:31

      I really enjoyed researchign this topic. I picked up info hear and there over the years, btu for some reason, I had never looked into it more properly. I will certainly research this matter more. Those suffragettes were some kick-asses!

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 29, 2022 at 18:29

    Last year, I watched the American Experience series The Vote twice, which was very emotional. Our foremothers went through so much to ensure women could have this basic right most men took for granted, and the only survivor of the Seneca Falls Convention was too old and sick to leave her home to vote in the 1920 election. Someday I’m going to have a triple helix flat ear piercing of an emerald, white opal, and amethyst to represent the suffragette flag (green, white, violet).

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 30, 2022 at 21:46

      Oh, that, would be a phenomenal tribute.
      I really loved learning about the suffrage movement, as I enjoyed learning about all the topics in this challenge. We often don’t realise what our ancestors did that still touches our everyday lives.

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