Throughout 1917 when the vote was given to women

Throughout
this historiographical essay, the case study I shall be focusing on is how the suffragettes helped women
win the vote. Historiography is the study of how different historians have
studied an area of academic discipline, and then comparing the different types
of historical research each historian has used to gain their overall
understanding on the topic1.
 This helps to see biases and ideologies about
historical topics. The titles I have chosen show how women in the suffragettes campaigned
differently for the vote and follow a chronological order of publication, to help
see the order of events towards equality. The titles explore significant points
in the history of how women gained the vote, from when Mary Smith presented the
first petition to parliament in 1832, to 1903 when Emmeline Pankhurst formed
the Women’s social and political union (WSPU), later known as the suffragettes,
the impact of world war 1 starting in 1913, to 1917 when the vote was given to
women over 30 and finally when the amendment of the representation of the
people act was passed in 1928 which gave all women and men the vote over the
age of 21.

No Surrender2 was
written by Constance Maud, who was a pioneering author for the WSPU. The book
was written at the pinnacle of the fight for the women’s vote, therefore the
authenticity of the novel for the reader is guaranteed. The accuracy of the
novel was also reaffirmed in 1912 when Emily Davison, another significant woman
in the fight for the vote stated, – ‘it is a book which breathes the very
spirit of our women’s movement.’ The Novel is based on Fictional characters,
but follows real women’s stories in major turning points in their fight to the
vote. The lead protagonist, Jenny Clegg is a mill worker, with a life of
drudgery due to male expectation of her retrospective role as a woman. However
due to a great passion in the Votes for women’s league, her life becomes full
of political activism when she encounters Mary O’Neil, the Mill owner’s
daughter. The book follows the women’s journey through their fight, with the
dreary courtyards where the women await their sentencing, the campaigns wit and
braveness against the working class and men, the planning of protests in city
high streets, and finally being ‘political prisoners.’

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 However, the most distressing
section which shows the reader the truly harrowing extent of what the
suffragettes went through is the brutal details of violence they encountered. The
chapter follows how Mary refused to eat in prison, which led her to be force-fed
by prison guards. The book sensitively portrays the campaigns of the
suffragettes in gaining the vote and gives insights to how women were treated
at the time. However, due to being written before the vote was granted it does
not give an overview picture of how the vote was won in the end, therefore
gives the idea, ‘the end is yet to come,’ and more up to date information is
now available.

 

Similarly, to No Surrender, Sylvia Pankhurst’s part
bibliography and part history novel ‘The Suffragette Movement,’3 follows
her tormenting experiences of imprisonment, hunger strikes, force feeding and
the cat and mouse act and chronicles of how the suffragettes won the vote against
the liberal government of the day. It reveals how the advocates of the women’s
suffrage became ‘polarized into mutually antagonistic factions,’ from
conservatives to Sylvia finally becoming a far left political participant. Sylvia
Pankhurst was a revolutionary, feminist, communist and political activist at
the time of women gaining the vote and the book was written just 3 years after
the Vote was won, concluding it to be a true account of what happened with
broad details. The past memoir and historical novel depicts the struggles
Sylvia and her sisters faced when founding the militant organization, the
Women’s social and political union from 1906 to 1914 and when Sylvia broke off
from this to form the East London Federation of suffragettes in 1914. It shows
the personality clashes within the family and other leaders and groups who
fought for the vote- such as the suffragists, who used less forceful methods to
gain the vote such as peaceful protests. It explains how the Suffragette
movement gained the phrase ‘Deeds not Words,’ by explaining their radical approach
of stone throwing, tying themselves to parliamentary fences, arson and physical
confrontation with authorities. At the end of the book, she explains how the
government finally granted women the vote, however the fight for equality was
still not won shown through the words, ‘Great is the work which remains to be
accomplished.’ The book is useful
for the historiographical insight into how the two political parties fought
very differently to gain the vote as it covers a range of one hundred years and
includes a range of sources such as; letters, News articles and quotations from
speeches given by the women 4. However,
it is bias towards the Pankhurst’s fight and not others that adjoined the
struggle in the suffragettes.

An exceptional primary source to gain insight into how
the suffragettes gained the women’s vote is an audio archive published in 1953,
of Sylvia Pankhurst talking about her mother’s fight5.
The archive describes Emmeline’s first encounter into her strive into gaining a
socialist society, was when she joined her husband Richard Pankhurst (another
leading suffragette supporter) in his bill to gain women the right to own
property and widowed Mothers the right to be the legal guardians to their
children. After joining the independent labour party, 9 years later, she formed
the Women’s social and political union in 1903, which was then named the
suffragettes, which ‘took whatever steps which might prove necessary, Legal or
illegal, to obtain the parliamentary vote for women.” The tape explains of the
extreme frustrated efforts Emmeline experiences for half a century, including
83 by-elections and contested 90 constituencies in the 1910 elections. It also
entails Emmeline’s four imprisonments from six weeks to nine months. The main
advantage of this source is that it provides memoirs directly from the Pankhurst
family (an imperative family in the suffragette fight), which will not be
documented elsewhere, forming its uniqueness. It also portrays the strong
emotions in the Pankhurst family, which will stimulate the personal involvement
of the reader. However, it also has disadvantages as a primary source, as
Sylvia and Emmeline Pankhurst were both directly involved in the fight towards
women’s equality in voting, therefore it is very bias in accounts of what
happened and lacks critical distance. Also, neither Sylvia and Emmeline are no
longer living, thus cannot be referred for authentication on the interspersed
facts involved. 

The novel, ‘Unshackled’ by Christabel Pankhurst published
in 19596 shows
how one of the most influential political leaders strode for political and
constitutional liberty by helping win women the vote. It talks of how her
family set up the Women’s Social Political Union (WSPU) in 1903 and how she
gained a law degree in 1907. It explored the ways in which the militant group
fought for the vote through antagonistic ways which led to her having to flee
to France to avoid arrest until after 1914 when the WSPU agreed to use less
aggressive ways of protest. It then goes on to explore how she founded ‘The
Women’s Party’ in 1917 which requested; equal pay for work, equal marriage and
divorce laws and a system of maternity benefits amongst many another equality
rights. The difference of this book compared to different historians account
which have been explored above, is that it includes information about the Men’s
Political Union for Women’s Suffrage impact on helping gaining the vote also.
It describes of one male participant sliding up a pillar in a political
conference to display a suffragette banner above two authoritative cabinet
ministers. The book also uses pictures to show the process of how women won the
vote, this can be an advantage as it will engage the reader further and create
a visual snapshot of what was happening at the time, leading to further understanding
of the topic. However, it does not allow the reader to see the larger scope of
what was happening at the time and different readers may interpret pictures
differently, so could lead to misleading information.

 

Shoulder to Shoulder, by Midge Mackenzie7, (who
was a well-known film maker and writer during the period of the suffragettes
and partnered with the BBC to dramatise the fight for equality through a TV
series and book in 1974), covers the period of the 1890’s to 1919. It particularly
considers how the Pankhurst family influenced the suffrage movement such as:
Emmeline, Christabel, Sylvia and Richard Pankhurst, but does also give a
broader view of how the suffragettes helped gain the vote. Alike the book,
Before the vote was won, the book is formed of a range of excerpts from
speeches, diaries, letters, memoirs, photographs and cartoons from influential
bodies in the political fight. It however strengthens from being full of original
sources that help the reader visualise what happened by documenting pictures of
all the militant protests the suffragettes carried out such as; hunger, thirst
and sleep strikes, protests through the streets of downtown London and when
Emily Davison threw herself in front of the Kings horse at the Derby. It has
little commentary which can be seen as a disadvantage as all readers may
interpret the events shown in a different way.

 

Before the vote was won: Arguments for
and against women’s suffrage by Jane Lewis8 is a
collection of articles, papers, speeches and pamphlets which document the
arguments of early suffragists in the period of 1864-1896 which is comprised
into a four-part series. It follows stories on women in the fight for the vote
such as Lydia Becker, Millicent Garret Fawcett and Elizabeth Wolstoneholme, and
portrays their battle against the never-ending hostility from male politicians
who firmly believed a woman’s place was to be at home and raise the children
through a range of sources. The book begins with the first proposal of Women’s enfranchisement
in the section, The Womens Journal in 1861, it also includes texts of the 1871
House of Commons debate on the Women’s Disabilities Bill and the 1892 Women’s
franchise bill. Another factor which makes this title an outstanding source on
how women won the vote is that it includes sources by those who opposed against
the suffrage leagues such as Mrs Humphry Ward, John Bright M.P. and Gladstone. Another
advantage of this source is that due to it focusing on the period before the
height of the Pankhurst family, it allows for other perspectives from other
political bodies in the fight for the vote to be heard by the reader, such as
Millicent Fawcett who was a political activist in women’s rights for 33 years.

However, this book only covers the
last three decades of the nineteenth century and it was another 26 years before
the vote was won, therefore the book leaves out key information about the
battle for the vote such as the militant, suffragettes and peaceful,
suffragists.

 

The titles in this
essay all use a wide variety of sources to help gain a chronological idea of
how women in the suffrage parties helped win the vote. The titles include
different methods in which women used for equality and even show how men helped
the suffrage. The titles also allow to see the views of the opposition and what
the women faced in their battle. However, it can be argued that all the authors
in this historiography essay are female, so therefore may have a sympathetic
attitude towards the suffragettes, painting a positive light upon them in
gaining the vote, therefore making them the sole reason for gaining the vote
and not considering ideas such as the suffragists or World War 1. The Books
included in this essay cover the period from when the fight started in 1832 and
when it was won in 1928- therefore giving the retrospective reader a whole and
conclusive historiography of how women won the vote. Even though as time
develops and the more historians delve deeper into the struggle of the vote and
more information will come to light, the core information used in these books
will always be a basis of the topic, Sylvia Pankhurst even wrote in her book that,’
successive generations of historians would write and rewrite the story of the
movement but her book would, in nature of things, always remain one of their
major sources.’9