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Women Suffrage

Women's Suffrage -The Right of Women To Vote

Suffragists were peaceful protestors (including some men) and had existed from the mid-1800s.

Suffragettes were militant and violent, their society did not start until 1903 and did not allow men to join.

The term Suffragette as opposed to Suffragist was a term of derision and published in the press by journalist Charles E Hands.

There were several groups:

  • International Women Suffrage Alliance
  • Women's Suffrage Society
  • The Suffragette
  • National Society for Women's Rights
  • National Union of Women's Suffrage 1897 by Millicent Fawcett
  • National Society for Women's Suffrage in 1872 had existed before and after the Reform Act 1832.

The Banner...'Votes for Women' also stated 'Deeds not Words'.

Women only Socialist and Political Union was founded by Emmaline Pankhurst.

Emmeline Pankhurst c.1913

Women had worked underground in coal mines until the Coal Mines Act 1842 that banned all females and boys under 10 from working underground.

At that time the woman and maybe daughters and boys helped the man with his coal getting by hauling the coal to the shaft bottom and maybe the wife did the wallowing of the coal up the shaft in containers and on the surface some of the children sorted out the coal into grades etc ready for buyers. Of course, it was a local area where the coal was transported by horse and cart.

Lord Ashley who had campaigned for years for this Act actually caused poverty. The loss of children or wives helping down the pit meant the loss of several wages and although only earning a small combined amount soon found that the family had to live off the man's wage. Many became destitute and the prosperity in 1840 heralded in the 'Hungry 40s'.

However not in the Midlands Coalfield but particularly in Lancashire, Cumberland, the West Riding of Yorkshire and to a lesser degree in North and South Wales hundreds if not thousands of women were allowed to work on the surface doing general duties, pushing and emptying tubs of coal and returning the empty tubs to the banksman at the shaft top and also they worked on the screening plant where they sorted the coal into sizes and picked out any dirt, such as shale etc. Practically all the women were either wives or daughters of coal miners or other allied industries.

Incidentally the last 2 screen workers retired from Whitehaven Colliery, Cumberland in 1972. The pit brow (pit broo) lassies around Wigan in Lancashire had finished earlier.

Women's Suffrage Movement in England was predominantly middle class whereas in Lancashire they were working class.

Suffrage could have happened earlier in 1910 with the Conciliation Bill and despite getting enough votes to pass its first reading the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, said there was insufficient time left in the current parliamentary session to see it through, so it got pushed to one side. When the Suffragettes heard the news, hundreds bombarded Parliament and 119 were arrested and jailed for disorder.

When the First World War broke out in August 1914 there was a political truce in the Suffrage movement and British women began to work in industry, factories and served in the armed forces as well as at home and supported the forces encouraging men to join the ranks.

A major factor in the Government's decision was to allow women to vote if aged 30 and above, if they owned property or rented accommodation of at least £5 per annum or they were the wife of someone who did.

Before 1918 wives and unmarried women had their votes cast by proxy.

It excluded many working-class women. The minimum age for a man was 21 but there was a concession for youths aged 19 and over if they had served in the armed forces during the War which ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of that year.

Strangely during the War from 6 February 1918, a further 5.6 million working class men who didn't own property were denied a vote until the Suffragettes campaigned.

Note it would be 10 years before the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 gave women the right to vote at aged 21 and over, same as men.

In the Coalfields during the mid-1800s colliery housing began to be built for the workforce. They were generally terraced housing with a parlour, scullery, 2 or 3 bedrooms, gas lamps, an outside tap shared by several families and pan lavatories down the garden, again shared by neighbours.

By the 1860s colliery rows were still being built such as at Annesley 1865/66 but were of a better type but still did not have bathrooms but had a zinc bath hung on a nail outside. By the turn of the Century Colliery Companies such as Bolsover Colliery Company had built a model village of semi-detached houses on tree lined avenues at Creswell with pleasant surroundings and gardens front and back, electric lights, 3 or 4 bedrooms, parlour, living room and scullery with running hot and cold water, indoor bathroom and an attached WC accessed from outside. These were luxurious and men flocked to the new sinkings with their families with the offer of a brand new house at a low rent, free coal, a good job with good pay. There was a downside and that was that the new colliery villages were remote and there were no jobs for women or daughters, the sons were expected to work at the pit when turned 13. Some families did not stay as they were unaccustomed to the solitude of the countryside and the lack of access to towns. It was a new idea and would spread with the new collieries in the 1920s. (See Doris Una Ball, Memories of Golden Valley)


Again another downside was that the miners did not have pithead baths (until after 1930) so the wife was still an unpaid carer not only for the children but had to assist the man to bathe at the front of a fire in a zinc bath with water obtained from a boiler in the fireplace. His clothes would be hung on a range to dry for his next shift.

In these villages it was difficult for women to form or even contemplate forming Suffrage groups as they were only allowed to congregate at the Mothers Union and other social meetings etc at the local Institute and were kept down not only by their husbands but by the Colliery Companies who would have some kind of 'law' forbidding such activities as Suffrage. They were expected to be housewives only, staying at home doing household chores raising and looking after children

In the towns it was different and groups were formed in Mansfield and in the city of Nottingham in particularly and its outskirts. It was easier to recruit members from all trades providing of course it was convenient.

There were quite a few coal mines surrounding Nottingham City, such as Wollaton and Radford, Clifton, Babbington, Basford and Gedling and Bestwood, none with pithead baths.

Around Mansfield town was Sherwood, Mansfield, Rufford collieries. At Sutton in Ashfield, Teversal and Silverhill, New Hucknall and Sutton, Kirkby and Bentinck collieries, again none with pithead baths. So all miners had to travel or walk home in their pit muck after a shift at work.

1dWives of miners from these pits had far greater freedom of meeting other women whilst their husbands were at work and these groups were usually led by upper class women, some being wives of directors of the colliery companies and other industries. However no doubt that there would have been matrimonial conflicts where it would be seen by many miners as a deliberate move to undermine the man's dominance in the household, in fact probably also they were ridiculed for their attempts to form Suffrage groups.

In Wales most of the female population was based mainly on low-waged densely populated industrialised valleys of the South and now of course there was no jobs for them in mining other than some pit top jobs and a few secretarial jobs and a few in engineering plants but there were some upper class women, wives of the industrialists and mine owners or directors or managers who had built their homes in the centre of the community from which they prospered. Whereas all these bosses were men, many with political ambitions found that their wives sought more charitable activities often connected to improving the lives of women and children of their workers. Again maybe many miners tolerated the women's groups purely as it would bring extra votes for the Labour Party should they bring down the voting age.

My grandmother Cissie (Florence) White was a political minded person supporting my grandfather Eli White in his aspirations when forming the local Socialist Labour movement in the Mansfield area in the 1910s. it would appear that all her friends and other colleagues were like-minded. My grandma and granddad brought me up so even in the late 1930s and 40s conversation would turn to the radical movements of the early 1900s when the family immigrated from Whiston, near Rotherham in South Yorkshire to Sutton in 1907, my grandfather obtaining work as a miner at New Hucknall Colliery, Huthwaite. He was a great orator and a scene shows him holding an audience of hundreds in awe on the Lammas grounds by the side of St Mary's Church whilst campaigning for the new Party.

Eli was ably abetted by some workmates and friends and their wives, in particular Charlie Brown (a hosiery worker) who would become Labour MP for Mansfield from 1929 to 1940 when he died suddenly. His wife Phoebe Brown (middle class and probably the leader) plus Mrs Smith, Mrs Charlesworth, Mrs Hickton, Mrs Walton and Mrs Webb all of Sutton. The group would congregate usually on a Tuesday afternoon for tea and cake where they would all sit round chatting then as the final drops of tea had been drunk with a final flick of the cup the tea leaves fell into a saucer so as to read someone's horoscope in turn by the pattern of the tea leaves, (hocus pocus I used to think). They always wore hats and so did my grandma who put one on to welcome them in. As a young boy I was more scared of them catching me unawares to give me a splodgy kiss than me overhearing the conversation on occasions that seemed to be in the past and relating to women's rights. Whether the same rights as Suffrage I don't know because we were now in the Second World War period. My grandma was on the Board of Guardians for many years meeting at the Hospital on Stockwell Gate, Mansfield to deal with helping the poor of the Parish.

Eli's friends were Charlie Brown, Dicky Smith (miner), Jack Hickton (miner), Charlie Carnell (miner), Charlie Webb (miner) and Harry Walton, who would congregate at 40 York Street, Sutton, and later at our house down Eastfield Side from 1935 on. Sunday mornings they had a quick raw egg flip prepared by my grandma before they trouped off to the Labour Club or later in the 1930s to 1950s to Unwin Road Club for a pint or two to put the world to rights leaving behind a huge cloud of smoke in the living room as they all smoked cigarettes barring Dicky who smoked a pipe. I always saw them as very friendly people, arguing of course over various subjects, lots of joking, but never falling out. They seemed affable and it is without doubt that because they were all interested in forming the Socialist Labour Party in the early 1900s along with their wives, no doubt they allowed them to join the women's groups as they were all for bringing the voting age down to parity with men, in order to get more votes for the new Party. It became the Labour Party. I do not know whether they were affiliated to or part of the Suffragette movement, more like Suffragists, or maybe they had mellowed having got the vote in 1928.

ArrestA heavy price many Suffragettes paid was that they lost husbands and relationships and children and jobs through their deep belief in Suffrage but many caused damage to property and were violent to the police and were sentenced to various terms in gaol and some then went on hunger strike and had to be force fed through pipes up their nose or by tubes down their throats... neither being a pleasant experience.

My granddad was sacked in the 1926 strike for his violent acts when preaching to the workforce to hold out for better pay and less hours following the collapse of the 1926 General strike that lasted 9 days. The miners held out for a further 6 months until forced back to work due to being destitute only to find that their wages had been cut and their hours of work extended... the very thing they had been out on strike for.

However after trying various jobs as a labourer he became a local councillor for several sessions in his spare time, served on several committees for the Co-operative movement and others, was a governor at several schools, secretary of the local branch for Anglo-Soviet relations in the War and he worked tirelessly for all in our community and was rewarded with an MBE medal in the King's honours list of 1949. He had realised years before like many women of the Suffragette movement I suppose that violence was not the way to progress, but it had cost him much grief as well as low wages for the rest of his working life. I remember my grandma had to get a part-time job cleaning to eke out the weekly budget. I didn't realise until later in my life how they both loved and doted on me and although we had 'nothing' I never lacked for anything. What wonderful people they were as they must have gone without, to feed me    

Bob Bradley, September 2018