‘Suffragette’ was originally used as a term of mockery by the Daily Mail but adopted by the militant branch of the movement, the Women’s Social and Political Union, founded by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in their frustration at the failure of peacable means to distinguish themselves from the tactics of the suffragists who remained wedded to non-violent tactics.
Further splits took place in the movement later when Charlotte Despard formed the Women’s Freedom League (WFL), breaking away from the WSPU which she found undemocratic in its focus on Christabel as heroic and autocratic leader. Idolised by many WSPU members, she believed in a disciplined organisation, following a strict party line. The WFL also focused on a wider range of issues than just the vote itself including violence against women, women’s exclusion from power, unequal pay and entrapment in narrow roles and expectations. In 1912 the Pethick-Lawrences, editors of the WSPU paper were asked to leave the movement and in 1914 Sylvia Pankhurst was asked to create a separate organisation as she was taking a different line with her East London Federation of the WSPU, from that established by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. Following in the Labourite traditions of their father Sylvia and Adela Pankhurst were socialists and concentrated their efforts on organising working-class women in the East End of London in the case of Sylvia and in Yorkshire, in that of Adela. In February 1914 Adela accepted a job offer from Vida Goldstein as organiser with the militant Women's Political Association in Melbourne and emigrated to Australia, with the strong encouragement of her family.
Frustration in the movement led to the adoption of policies of increasingly violent action directed against property with women disrupting parliament, chaining themselves to railings, smashing windows, setting fire to pillar boxes, burning down public buildings and the (unoccupied) homes of politicians. Suffragettes sought arrest and many went on hunger strike in prison to campaign against their classification as criminals rather than political prisoners. Such actions sought to dramatise and attract attention to the Cause where peaceful actions had been disregarded. The Government response was increasingly violent with the introduction of forced feeding for hunger strikers and of measures like the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act allowing re-arrest of those freed on health grounds.
Much of the suffrage history written has focused on the national movement, its leaders and activities such as demonstrations and window-breaking in central London. However as writers like Jill Liddington have shown there were highly active movements elsewhere in Britain, in Scotland and in many northern industrial cities. Often suffragettes were young and working class rebel girls, who risked losing their jobs and homes for the Cause.
Many young women got involved in the movement, taking direct action themselves or in support of others, including teachers. Listen to this account from the BBC Archives
from The Suffragette Movement
The Founding of the WSPU: Manchester 1903
“Mrs Pankhurst was now declaring that she had wasted her time in the I.L.P.– She decided that the new organization, which she would form without delay, should be called the Women’s Labour Representation Committee; but when Christabel returned from a meeting with Miss [Esther] Roper and Miss [Eva] Gore Booth and learnt the name her mother had chosen, she said it must be changed, for her friends had already adapted this title for the organisation they were forming amongst the women textile workers. Christabel did not at that time attach any importance to her mother’s project; her interest lay with that of her friends. Mrs Pankhurst was disappointed and distressed that Christabel should insist upon their prior claim to the name she wanted, but she bowed to her decision and selected instead: ‘The Women’s Social and Political Union’-
On October 10th, 1903, she called to her house at 62 Nelson Street a few of the women members of the I.L.P., and the Women’s Social and Political Union was formed-
Katharine Bruce Glasier was then editing the Labour Leader in Black Friars’ Street, Manchester. I called at her office with a W.S.P.U. resolution for which publication was desired. She at once commenced to scold me for the aggressive attitude of our family, declaring that since her daughters had grown up, Mrs Pankhurst was no longer ‘sweet and gentle’- “