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More than 100 years ago, the Suffragettes in the UK succeeded in bringing the vote to a portion of the country’s women: those over the age of 30 who were landholders (or their wives) or who rented property at an annual rate of at least £5, as well as graduates of British universities. It wouldn’t be until 1928, and the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act, that women were given the same voting rights as men.

Deeds Not Words

Although suffragist groups existed from the mid nineteenth century, their peaceful approach to requesting enfranchisement using education and debate ultimately failed to change minds. The result was the founding and rapid growth of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) by Emmeline Pankhurst, with her daughters Christabel and Sylvia.

With their now-famous motto ‘Deeds Not Words’, this group was much more militant than its predecessors. Members protested, blew up pillar boxes, smashed up shop fronts, and older members even went so far as to buy gun licences to scare the authorities into thinking revolution was imminent. Famously, Suffragettes were imprisoned and treated terribly by their captors, being force-fed sometimes hundreds of times against their will, with lasting physical and mental consequences.

There could be no doubt that the vote and the move to equality was paramount to the women (and sometimes men) of the suffrage movement. Some gave their lives for the cause – the most famous, though not the first, being Emily Wilding Davison in 1913, who threw herself in front of the King’s horse at Epsom Derby – while other endured months and years of being on the run.

Ultimately, the Suffragettes achieved their goal of enfranchisement for women and the movement has rightfully gone down in history as one of the strongest and most successful women’s rights groups. Today, the battle for women’s enfranchisement has been all but won, but equality still hovers just out of reach. With such high-profile campaigns as #HeForShe and the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, perhaps the methods have changed but the goal of equality remains strong.

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