• Imagining History

Suffragettes – An Introduction for KS2:

Updated: Apr 4

In February 1918, some women in the UK finally received the right to vote for the first time. Although it was another 10 years before all women in the UK got the right to vote, the Act of 1918 was a huge step in the right direction for the Women’s Suffrage movement. But what was Women’s Suffrage, what exactly is a Suffragette and what did they do?


Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst protest for Women's Suffrage

What is Women’s Suffrage?:


The word “Suffrage” means to have “the right to vote in political elections”. Before 1918, women in the UK didn’t have the right to vote – meaning they weren’t allowed to have a say in how their country was run and who by. Instead, it was men who would vote in political elections and have full say over the running of the country.

So many women started a movement for Women’s Suffrage – for women to gain the right to vote in political elections. This movement included sending petitions (written requests) to the government, campaigning and even protesting to achieve their goal.


The first publicly supported case for Women’s Suffrage was made in 1792 by Mary Wollstonecraft in her book “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” and the first ever petition made to the government for Women’s Suffrage in the UK was made in 1832. But the movement really grew in strength in the late 1800’s and the early 1900’s around the First World War.


What is a Suffragette?:


A woman who was fighting for the right to vote was called a “Suffragette”. But a person who supports a Suffrage movement is normally called a “Suffragist”. So where did the term “Suffragette” come from?


The word “Suffragette” was actually originally used as an insult to women who were fighting for the right to vote. Newspaper reporters decided to add “-ette” to the end of the word instead of “-ist”. Adding “-ette” to the end of words was often used as an offensive way to describe something as girly, small or of a low standard.


Although the term was meant to be derogatory and insulting, women supporting the Women’s Suffrage movement embraced it. Soon, the word became associated with strong women doing everything they could to fight for their own rights.


Emmeline Pankhurst being arrested.

What did Suffragettes do?:


In 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was formed by Emmeline Pankhurst. The WSPU had the motto “Deeds not Words” and stopped at nothing to get their voices heard.


Women hosted marches and protests, some of which ended in violence, such as the Women’s Sunday demonstration which concluded with women throwing stones through the windows of the Prime Minister’s house and tying themselves to railings. Other deeds by the WSPU included militant action, arson attacks, refusing to pay taxes and more. Some Women’s Suffrage supporters were arrested, such as Dora Thewlis and 75 others in 1907 who attempted to storm the houses of parliament. When imprisoned, some Suffragettes would go on hunger strike, resulting in prison officers to have to force feed them.


But not all actions by the movement were violent, there were many peaceful protests such as the 1913 Pilgrimage for Women’s Suffrage.


Then in 1914, the outbreak of the First World War brought a pause in the Women’s Suffrage movement. During the First World War, many women were called upon to help the war effort by taking up the jobs left behind by the men who went to fight in the war. Their efforts in employment during this time helped their cause enormously.


A poster showing a woman on hunger strike being force-fed.

When did women finally get the right to vote?:


The Act of 1918 was the first step for women gaining the right to vote. This act allowed women over 30 to vote in parliamentary elections, but only if they were married. In November of the same year, the Parliamentary Qualification of Women Act was passed, allowing women to become members of parliament (an “MP”).


It wasn’t until 10 years later in 1928 when The Representation of the People Act was passed, allowing everyone over the age of 21 to vote, that all women in the UK finally gained the right to vote.