When did the women’s suffrage movement began?

Last Updated: 26 Jan 2021
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During the 19th century women were seen differently, through the eyes of the law, men and work. Most people believed that women should be passive 'ladies'; obedient to their husbands and should stay at home. Married women's property was owned by their husbands and so was their financial, political and social power. Women didn't have similar rights as men did during the 19th century and this had started to get more and more noticed, by women, towards the 20th century. Women were put into three types of class systems, working class being the lowest, middle class, being the intermediate and rich class being the highest.

A woman's husband's class would determine which class she would belong to. Most working class women were noticeable if they had a tan. The reason being is that working class women would have had to do the domestic work as well as earning money by working for an employer, usually at a very low pay, and this would have resulted in the woman having a tan. Most working class girls were brought up into poor families and had to start work at a young age. They earned little money and tended to marry men from there own deprived class.

However, middle class women had diverse experiences and attitudes towards themselves. They were known as 'helpmeets' by men and had accepted their position in the sexual hierarchy. All middle class families had employed servants, which meant women had little to do except for embroidery and entertaining as only a majority of them could educate themselves. Middle class girls were taught at home by mothers and governesses and learned how to 'catch a man' and how to be a good wife. On the contrary, rich class women had the 'easiest' life out of all the types of women.

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They had servants to look after the homes, thus they had more time to spend on their families and themselves. They could go to school for an education and could even choose to be a doctor, accountant or banker. Although rich women could take up a career in one these jobs, they were still restricted in society of taking up a career in other jobs such as diplomats, barristers or judges. Overall, rich women had the most pleasant life out of all the types of women but even they had started to get fractious of the restrictions and the disparity that was towards them.

Women were starting to get irritated of not having the same rights and equality as men did during the 19th century. They were mainly annoyed because of the 'separate spheres' theory. This theory explained the roles of men and women, which were listed inside two circles, one for each sex, had showed the roles that each person would have to do. Women's roles were harder and longer than the men's were and this was due to the inequality, at the time of the 19th century, which lead to a difference in roles.

By 1870, women were becoming more frustrated of the restricted paths they could choose from and this had lead in women starting to campaign and protest for equal rights. Changes in the education opportunities encouraged women to campaign for the vote because women had began to comprehend that they were not getting the same education as men were. This had started to infuriate women as they couldn't do much with their careers and this resulted in a lower income for women to support their families with.

Working class women couldn't educate themselves due to their class, middle class women had accepted their position on the sexual hierarchy and where known as 'helpmeets' towards men whereas rich class women were allowed to educate themselves but there were only a handful of good academic girl's schools at that time, of which the government didn't bother much about. Even though some women didn't want a change, things were starting to look good for the ones that did. In 1874, the first school of medicine was founded for the medical education for women.

In 1878, London University was the first to award women degrees on the same terms as men. Although some opportunities were opening for women, the idea of disparity was still consistent. Changes in the legal status of women encouraged women to campaign for the vote because the general attitude towards them was beginning to change due to the legal status at that time such as the Custody of Infants Act, which was introduced in 1839 and meant that women were authorized to claim custody of young children following separation.

In addition, the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 introduced the possibility of a civil divorce, one that could be granted without an act of Parliament. Also the Matrimonial Causes Act allowed legally separated women to retain their earnings, giving them some control over their own income for the first time. Now that women were a part of the new laws, they wanted to insure that they could get the vote, which was most important for them to achieve. Albeit there were beginning to be superior changes, women were still not treated equally and the law was preventing them from exercising politics.

Changes in the workplace encouraged women to campaign for female suffrage because women (mainly working class) were starting to get stressed of having to do domestic work as well as working in factories, mills etc for little reward and being called 'irresponsible' by people because they'd work and not look after there children all the time. Because of this, women had started to get annoyed and wanted better rights at work and home. Small groups had started to form due to the inequality of women's rights and campaigning was beginning to appear by the twentieth century.

Although women had started to protest for disparity, they still weren't receiving the attitudes by men and the law as they had hoped to. Political groups such as the NUWSS encouraged women to gain the vote because they were opening a whole new gateway for women and their rights. The NUWSS (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies) was beginning to make it clear to people that they wanted the vote. Milicent Fawcet was the leader of the NUWSS, also known as the Suffragists, and aimed to expand the rights of women and to improve society. The Suffragists were doing this by protesting, going to political meetings and by peaceful persuasion.

By doing this they wanted people to realise they were solemn. They were achieving and had the success of many Liberal MPs and some Conservative leaders, however this wasn't enough to gain the vote and the slow moving process meant that suffrage groups such as the Suffragists weren't getting anywhere with the gaining of the vote and women were running out of patience. In conclusion, I think that a campaign for women's suffrage developed in the years after 1870 because situations changed for women, which took them one step closer to gaining the vote.

The reasons I have listed in my essay show how women had started to take action after the year1870, such as protesting, peaceful persuasion etc. The main reasons that I think have encouraged women to campaign for equality are education, the workplace, the change in the legal status and most importantly female suffrage groups. All of these reasons have given women a better understanding on why they should gain the vote and to demonstrate why male and female 'separate spheres' should interlink with each other to give the genders equal roles.

I think that female suffrage groups acted like the spark that lit the fire for female equality as it gave women a voice to express their feeling on how they would have liked to be treated and the rights they would have liked to achieve from the government. Suffrage groups were a good way of campaigning towards the 20th century because people, such as the government, would have noticed suffrage groups and would have listened to their explanations rather than listening to only one person trying to explain a point.

Although women had started to make points that they'd feel strongly about clear, this wasn't enough to gain the vote. Women had gained social and economical freedom, however they had still lacked in political freedom, which had started to exasperate the majority of them. Groups such as the Suffragists were making points clear to people, however there slow moving process was not going to plan as women still hadn't gained the vote towards the 20th century, and if their was no vote then their would be no change, so women had started to run out of ideas and most of them had started to run out of patience.

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When did the women’s suffrage movement began?. (2017, Nov 26). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/campaign-womens-suffrage-develop-years-1870-2/

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