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121 Building democracy


Right: A banner displayed by suffragettes in the House


of Commons chamber during a protest on 28 October 1908


member societies pursued constitutional means of political campaigning such as petitioning, lobbying, deputations, meetings, and peaceful rallies and marching. Its supporters were known as “suffragists”. Some women were impatient with the lack of progress by suffragists, and in 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and others. Te WSPU’s motto, “Deeds Not Words”, encapsulated their different approach. Teir methods of direct action, which began in late 1905 and developed and escalated over time, took many forms, including setting fire to pillar boxes, stone-throwing and window-breaking. Supporters of the WSPU and other militant organisations became known as “suffragettes”. Te Palace of Westminster was a particular target for suffragettes. Well-known incidents included the “rush” on the building organised by the WSPU in June 1908; the chaining of suffragettes from the Women’s Freedom League to the grilles of the Ladies’ Gallery in October 1908; and Emily Wilding Davison’s overnight stay in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft on census night 1911. In 1909, Marion Wallace-Dunlop was the


suffrage were presented to the Commons between 1866 and 1918, and hundreds more to the Lords. Te first full parliamentary debate on the subject took


place in 1867 with Mill’s unsuccessful attempt to amend the Second Reform Bill to substitute the word “man” with “person”. It continued with bills or motions being presented to the Commons by individual MPs almost every year between 1870 and 1914, resulting in many debates and votes on the subject. Sometimes supporters of women’s suffrage even won a vote. No government, however, was prepared to introduce its own bill or to help an individual MP to get his bill through parliament. Without that support, all of this effort was in vain. In 1897, a number of local societies formed the National


Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) under the leadership of Millicent Garrett Fawcett. Te NUWSS and its


first suffragette to go on hunger strike, following imprisonment for stencilling a notice on a wall in St Stephen’s Hall. Initially hunger-striking women were released. Later the tactic of forcible feeding was adopted. Tis barbaric method caused revulsion and an outcry. Politicians including the Labour Party founder Keir Hardie spoke out in parliament against it, and George Lansbury resigned his seat to fight a by-election on the issue, unsuccessfully. To overcome the protests the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-health) Act was passed in 1913, which allowed for hunger-striking prisoners to be released until they regained their health—at which point they were then re-arrested. Tis was likened by campaigners to a cat playing with a mouse, and the legislation became better known as “the Cat and Mouse Act”. At the outbreak of the First World War, all suffragette prisoners were released, militancy ended


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