Findmypast has brought together a historically significant collection of suffragette records. The collection comprises records from The National Archives related to the women and men who supported women’s suffrage in the early 20th century. Discover your suffragette ancestor among the arrest records, parliamentary papers, watch list of over 1,300 suffragettes, personal statements, reports of force-feeding, and transcripts of speeches.
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Suffragettes advocated for the right to vote to be extended to women. The term ‘suffragist’ was a general term for those who supported women’s suffrage, and the term ‘suffragette’ was coined in 1906 by the Daily Mail to distinguish those who supported militant actions to support women’s suffrage.
The Suffragette collection spans from 1902 to 1919 and includes the following series of records from The National Archives: AR 1, ASSI 52, CRIM 1, CRIM 9, DPP 1, HO 144, HO 45, HO 140, LO 3, MEPO 2, MEPO 3, PCOM 7, PCOM 8, PRO 30, T 1, T 172, TS 27, and WORK 11. Among these are photographs of suffragettes, cabinet letters, calendars of prisoners, Home Office papers of suffragette disturbances, an index of women arrested between 1906 and 1914 (the official watch list of over 1,300 suffragettes), reports of force-feeding, and more.
The women’s suffrage movement began in the late 19th century and became a national movement with the formation of The National Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1867 by Lydia Becker. Later came the more influential, National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, created under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett. A significant shift in the suffrage movement occurred in the early 20th century, when more suffragists supported militant action after being disappointed with years of no progress. In 1906, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia established the Women’s Social and Political Union. The motto of the organisation was ‘Deeds Not Words’.
The women’s suffrage movement succeeded in influencing the passage of two pieces of legislation which extended the franchise to women. The Representation of the People Act 1918 extended the right to vote to women over the age of 30 who met the property qualifications. The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 expanded the vote to all women over the age of 21, bringing the right to vote for women in line with men.
The collection brings together the stories of women of all classes who actively supported women’s suffrage by attending peaceful demonstrations and meetings, as well as committed arson attacks, window breaking, contributed to public disobedience, chalked on footpaths, and more. You will find working-class women of the factories recorded alongside aristocratic women. The records do include the names of male suffragettes who were arrested with their female comrades.
There are numerous well-known names of suffragettes found in these records. Below is just a selection of the notable names:
Emmeline, Christabel, and Sylvia Pankhurst – leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. Found the Women’s Social and Political Union and supported the militant actions of suffragettes.
Leonora Cohen – Acted as the personal bodyguard for Emmeline Pankhurst and was arrested after smashing the display case of the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, an action which gave her the nickname the ‘Tower Suffragette’.
Emily Wilding Davison – Davison was arrested on nine occasions, commenced a hunger strike in prison, and was force-fed. One of her arrests was, famously, for hiding overnight in Parliament on the same night the 1911 census was recorded. In 1913, she was killed by King George V’s horse after walking onto the track at the Epsom Derby.
Marion Wallace Dunlop – the first suffragette to go on a hunger strike while in prison.
Flora McKinnon Drummond – given the nickname ‘the General’ for the way that she led women’s marches. Drummond was arrested nine times and a frequent speaker at demonstrations.
Mary Eleanor Gawthorpe – arrested when she interrupted Churchill’s speech in 1909. She was badly beaten while imprisoned and suffered internal injuries.
Lilian Ida Lenton – arrested for arson at the Tea House at Kew Gardens. Lenton escaped Holloway prison by dressing as an errand boy and fled to France.
Lady Constance Lytton – arrested and force-fed while on hunger strike. Lady Lytton used the alias Jane Warton in order to avoid special treatment because of her title.
Hannah Mitchell – involved with the Women’s Social and Political Union. Her autobiography, The Hard Way Up was used by Abi Morgan, the screenwriter of the 2015 film Suffragette, as inspiration for one of the film’s working-class characters.
George Lansbury – a political and social reformer. Lansbury represented the East End of London and promoted social justice and women’s right. His name is listed among the index of suffragettes.
Findmypast has also digitised The Suffragette newspaper. The Suffragette (later named Britannia) was a weekly newspaper announcing the activities of suffragettes, upcoming meetings, and articles related to a wide range of women’s issues. The paper had a circulation of 40,000. The collection holds newspapers from 1912 until 1918. The Suffragette, and then later Britannia, was edited by Christabel Pankhurst and was the official organ of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The WSPU was formed in 1903 by the Pankhurst family and became known for its emphasis on militant action and its motto: ‘Deeds not Words’. In 1915, the newspaper title changed its name to reflect the WSPU’s patriotic ideals and was used to campaign for the war effort while retaining a focus on women’s issues.
With each issue, you will discover the efforts by the WSPU towards women’s suffrage and in support of the Allies and the First World War. In the early years of the newspaper, before the Pankhursts vowed to set aside their militant actions to support the war, the articles told of the violent and disruptive actions of the suffragettes. The paper also featured articles on a range of topics affecting the women of Britain.
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