We don’t really hear much about women’s rights and activism during the First World War in Britain – just that women eventually got the vote. I can’t say for sure why, was it that the government saw a country full of women working just as well as men or was it leading that way with the efforts of the women’s suffrage movement just before? Let’s just say it was an amalgamation of the two.
So what has Emmeline Pankhurst got to do with this? Well in 1903, Emmeline founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) also known as the Suffragettes. The WSPU used militant tactics to campaign for the vote for women. This included demonstrating through the city streets, smashing windows, using explosives, and also by partaking in hunger strikes whilst in prison. However, when war was declared in 1914, Emmeline and her daughter Christabel, convinced the WSPU to refrain from using such militant tactics throughout the war and to support the country when it was needed most. This must have been a hard decision, but everyone was convinced that the war would end in some months. It wasn’t just a case of deciding that women’s suffrage wasn’t important, but at the time Germany was seen as a bigger threat than the British Government. Emmeline’s other daughter, Sylvia, couldn’t take a stand with her mother and sister as she completely opposed the war, as many did, and turned away from the WSPU.