The movement for women’s suffrage (the right to vote) began in 1872, with agitation reaching a peak in the years immediately before the outbreak of war, due largely to the foundation of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906.
In 1912, after the failure of the third Conciliation Bill to extend the right to vote to women, the WSPU heightened their campaign to include arson and bombing. In 1913 suffragettes set fire to the vacant property of Lady White in Englefield Green, detonated a small explosion at Oxted station, and bombed the house being built for the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd-George in Walton on the Hill. The same year also saw the death of Emily Wilding Davison after attempting to grab the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby.
Dame Ethel Smyth, the Woking-based composer, served three weeks in Holloway prison for activism. In early 1914 she was promoting her operas in Germany and Austria before meeting Emmeline Pankhurst in France. Both returned to England when war was declared. Ethel then travelled to Paris to train as a radiographer and was attached to the XIIIth Division of the French army hospital at Vichy.
Not all those in favour of women’s suffrage were militant. Surrey was home to notable suffragists who believed in achieving change through Parliamentary means, including Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Thomas Lord Farrer of Abinger, and Wilhelmina Bodie-Hall, vice president of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage.
The WSPU ceased militancy on the outbreak of war, devoting themselves to an Allied victory and charity work.
On 14 December 1918 women of 30 or over, who were householders or the wives of householders, property owners, or graduates, voted in the general election for the first time.
Click here to download PDF, Front cover of Ethel Smyth’s composition The March of the Women, 1911 SHC REF: 9180
Part of the The Last Summer display.