They Wanted It, They Got It!; The History of Women's Suffrage

"Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel." - Virginia Woolf

The idea of being a “proper woman” has always been a troubling term for women. Especially since the beginning of the industrial revolution, it is seen that women were tried to fit into specific names and descriptions, and “proper woman” has been one of them. According to the description of a “proper woman”, which showed itself intensely in the Victorian period, a woman’s mission in life shouldn’t be further than being a nice wife to her husband, a caring mom to her children, and a servant to her house. Yet regardless of what they were forced to fit in, there were some women to confront the public eye no matter what the results are.

In the early 1800s, years after the end of slavery, no matter their classes, all men had gained the right to vote in England. However, the situation was not yet applicable to women. Reflecting how difficult the situation was, women’s right to vote could not even be mentioned because a woman was basically ignorant, naïve, and someone who is not capable of giving decisions on her own; women were needy; they needed a man beside to be protected, to be right, and to be taken seriously in a better saying.

Despite these oppressions over women, the first movement devoted to women’s suffrage started with the foundation of the London Union of Women’s Suffrage in 1867. Besides parliament’s discussions over the issue, John Stuart Mill, a philosopher, economist, and member of parliament back then, suggested that women should be given the same right to vote under the same circumstances as men; however, his suggestion was rejected by 73 to 194 votes in the English Parliament. Eventually, this decision of Parliament Members did nothing but trigger women’s ambition to get their right to vote as they deserve. Without pointing at any specific political target, by the end of the century, Women’s Right to Vote had become the center of their war against the patriarchal world.

By 1903, The Women’s Social and Political Union founded under the leadership of activist Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, had been one of the most influential movements that had ever been done in the history of England. Having only women as its members, this community of Pankhurst’s fundamental aim was again for women to gain the right to vote. To spread the ideology of their community, Emmeline Pankhurst arranged meetings in every inch of her country and made speeches to stress the importance and necessity of women’s right to vote.

However, besides their meetings, Pankhurst and her community showed their rage and aggression in an unexpected way for women. It is no wonder that this aggression was nothing more than an imitation of men. While they were not harming any civilians, they were smashing the windows of the government’s buildings, breaking down the civic centers, and setting fires on the streets in large groups on the contrary. This was because as the leaders of the community, Pankhurst and her daughters believed that they could draw attention to the women’s social and political needs by showing aggressive behaviors. As a result, most of the members of The Women’s Social and Political Union had been arrested by the government; however, that did not withhold women from their purpose but made them rebel more, occurring new protests and hunger strikes instead.

The strikes were happening both in and out of the prisons. Thus, the situation was worse for the arrested members because the guardians were literally struggling to feed and take care of them for it was their mission; it was no different than torture on both sides. In 1913, the English government made a law to free the prisoners on hunger strike for the sake of their well-being. According to this law, women who were suffering from unhealthy situations -who were about to die in a better saying- would be set free.

By the time of the First World War, Christabel Pankhurst came to the head of The Women’s Social and Political Union. However, Christabel showed nationalist behaviors and began to work with the English government which eventually resulted in the abolishment of the community. Upon having been disinterested by the public eye, the community was abolished in 1917. However, by 1918, at least women over 30 were officially given the right to vote. This revolution was followed exactly after 10 years, in 1928, by all women in England had finally gained their right to vote under the same conditions as men.

It is important to note that women’s dependency on their purpose from the beginning under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst drew attention not only in England but worldwide. This movement made a splash also overall in Europe being an example to all women on their path to demand justice. One by one, European women began to attain their rights from the patriarchal governments by showing their rage, power, and desire for freedom. Yet another fact to be drawn attention to is that unfortunately, no community of women that didn’t resort to violence had achieved their purposes while only communities like Emmeline Pankhurst's could reach their goals when they expressed their will fiercely.