National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies Archive

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive consists of 30 volumes of news cuttings relating to the social and political position of women and all aspects of the suffrage campaign between 1910 and 1914. Volumes 1 to 4 include a number of pamphlets, some of which were published before the compilation of the volumes, at least as early as 1908 and possibly earlier.

The period 1910-1914 was a period of considerable women's suffrage activity and this is reflected in the news cuttings. The most significant parliamentary activity centred around:

  • - the "Conciliation" Bills of 1910, 1911 and 1912 which were introduced by members of an all-party Conciliation Committee, established in 1910, who worked to promote an Act for the (limited) enfranchisement of women
  • - the Prisoners' Temporary Discharge for Ill Health [Cat and Mouse] Act, 1913, which allowed suffragettes on hunger-strike to be released from prison until their health had recovered, and then be rearrested
  • - the Franchise and Registration Bill of 1913 which was supposed to be open to a women's suffrage amendment until the Speaker ruled that it would change the nature of the Bill and could not therefore be accepted
  • - the Plural Voting Bills of 1913 and 1914
  • - Dickinson's Representation of the People Bill of 1913
  • - Selborne's Women's Enfranchisement Bill (Lords) of 1914.

There was also a lot of women's interest in the provisions of the Insurance Act, 1912.

During this period the suffragettes were best known for their "militant" activities and, although the N.U.W.S.S. did not endorse violent methods, reports of such protests are prominent in the volumes. There are numerous reports relating to Emmeline Pankhurst (1857-1928) and Christabel Pankhurst (1880-1958), founders of the W.S.P.U. Militant activity included window- smashing, pillar-box raids and, on occasion, bomb attacks. More constitutional demonstrations were seen in the census evasion in 1911, tax resistance and the so-called "Women's Suffrage Pilgrimage".

Notable events include the George Lansbury (1859-1940) by- election at Bow and Bromley in November 1912, fought on the women's suffrage issue, and the death of Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913) from injuries sustained as she fell under the King's Horse at the Derby.

Matters of overwhelming interest for both men and women of the period included the nature of "woman" and her role in society, the range and duration of careers for women and the kind of pay and conditions in operation. The volumes show the N.U.W.S.S. to have been taking a keen interest in the professions and actions of the Labour Party and in labour strikes in Dublin and South Africa.

Other reform movements of the period were concerned with: the "white slave trade"; Divorce Law; Venereal Disease; Temperance; Welsh Disestablishment; Police Courts and Prisons; and Poor Law. Of these reform movements the Women's Suffrage Movement was most closely allied with the movement against the "white slave trade", a term which refers to the procurement of "innocent girls" to lead a "life of infamy" and prostitution in brothels in Britain and abroad. Articles relating to the "white slave trade" and the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1912, which gave police increased powers of arrest against men suspected of procuring girls for the trade, feature prominently throughout the volumes; references to the other reform movements can be found occasionally.

The tone of the final 2 volumes changes as the encroaching First World War made issues of national defence and maintenance of the country of more pressing urgency than the demand for the vote and the women's suffrage network used its administration for this new purpose. The movement was dormant rather than dead and would, in fact, gain new strength and force as a result of the war.

Administrative / Biographical History

The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (N.U.W.S.S) was founded in 1897 to provide an umbrella organisation for the various regional societies devoted to the cause of women's suffrage which had been formed around the country since the founding of the first permanent women's suffrage society, the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage, in 1867 by Lydia Ernestine Becker (1827-1890). It's headquarters were in London and its President was Millicent Garrett Fawcett (1847- 1929) who, after the death of Lydia Becker, became the key leader of the constitutional women's suffrage movement.

The society was non-militant in its methods, in sharp contrast to the Women's Social and Political Union (W.S.P.U.), and until 1912 was non-party in its politics. After 1912, however, the decision was taken to support Labour Party candidates in by- elections since they were the only party officially offering support to women's suffrage; known allies within other parties would not however be opposed.

The aim of the Union was to achieve the enfranchisement of women on the same terms as the enfranchisement of men and to this end they held meetings, wrote articles and distributed educational propaganda. A great amount of their energy and enthusiasm was used in support of private members' bills for the enfranchisement of women. These were ultimately unsuccessful but with small chance of a government bill being brought it was a logical strategy and one which won them publicity, if little else.

On the outbreak of war most members of the N.U.W.S.S ceased active suffrage work to put their full support behind the war effort; such war work precipitated the Representation of the People Act, passed in 1918, which opened the franchise to women, although not yet on equal terms with men. Following this Act the Union changed its name to the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (N.U.S.E.C.).

Arrangement

The volumes of news cuttings represent a full chronological record of events and ideas within the British women's suffrage movement 1910-1914, as portrayed in the press. Sources and dates of cuttings are generally given. The first 2 volumes are indexed at the start of the volume by the society; the third volume is partially indexed (A-P); thereafter the volumes are not indexed. For each volume this catalogue notes the main subjects which recur but this should be taken as an indication only and not regarded as comprehensive.

Conditions Governing Access

The archive is open to any accredited user.

Acquisition Information

The archive was transferred to the John Rylands Library with various volumes of The Common Cause (1909-1917), The New Statesman Supplements (1913-1915), The Suffragette (1912-1914), The Vote (1909- 1911), Votes for Women (1907-1918), Women's Franchise (1908-1909) and the Women's Suffrage Journal (1872-1889) by the National Union of Societies forEqual Citizenship in July 1923.

Other Finding Aids

None.

Alternative Form Available

The archive of the N.U.W.S.S. is published in reels 1-7 of the microfilm Campaign for Women's Suffrage 1895-1920: Papers of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, the Parliamentary Committee for Women's Suffrage, and the Manchester Men's League for Women's Suffrage, from the John Rylands Library, Manchester (Woodbridge: Research Publications, 1990) . Under normal circumstances the microfilm will be issued to readers rather than the original volumes. Please note that on the microfilm loose inserts have been filmed at their place of insertion, rather than placed separately as in this list.

Related Material

The Library also holds archives of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA), the Parliamentary Committee for Women's Suffrage (PCWS) and the Manchester Men's League for Women's Suffrage (MML). See also the correspondence of C.P. Scott with Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst within the Guardian Archive. Researchers may find it useful to consult Margaret Barrow Women 1870-1928: A Select Guide to Printed and Archival Sources in the United Kingdom (London: Mansell, 1981).

Bibliography

In compiling this list the archivist found useful:

Constance Rover Women's Suffrage and Party Politics in Britain 1866-1914 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967)

Roger Fulford Votes for Women: The Story of a Struggle (London: Faber and Faber Ltd, 1957)

E. Sylvia Pankhurst, The Suffragette Movement: An Intimate Account of Persons and Ideals (London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1931).