While the issue of women’s suffrage has roots based in every country in the world, most think that the initial inroads were painfully carved through the efforts of early women pioneers in America. This perception is easily formed due to the early publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Right’s of Women in 1792. However, the movement gained national attention in New Zealand in 1893 and in Australia in 1902, eclipsing the suffrage movement in Britain, Canada and America by at least 25 years. The struggle for women’s rights has been ponderous and slow moving throughout the years and not without internal divisions.
In England women were allowed to hold jobs such as teachers and shopkeepers but not given the right to vote even though they supported the government by paying taxes. This became a major stumbling point as even prisoners and those in mental institutions were allowed to vote. A push to include women in this right began with a peaceful movement that consisted of public talks and gatherings. The leader of this movement was Millicent Fawcett who believed that peaceful protest would gain more support and be more effective than using violence. Her followers became known as the Suffragists. Sentiment concerning women’s rights was strongly divided with only one small portion of those in government showing support through the efforts of the Labour Party. At that time the Party was so small that even its influence was minimal.
One of the key arguments in favor of women’s rights was in the instance of wealthy estate owners who were women. They employed gardeners, cooks, maids and general workmen but were unable to exercise their basic right to vote. These women were landowners and obviously looked upon within society as valued members with ample financial backing to help support the small towns and businesses that were so popular; however, one basic right was being withheld. As dissent increased it was natural that differences of opinion would occur and a break within the suffrage movement was expected.
One foundational group of women, led by Emelline Pankhurst, became disenchanted with the movement and broke away from those initially involved in the women’s right program. Her husband, Richard, was a close friend of philosopher John Stuart Mill who advocated for women’s rights as a Member of Parliament. Mill submitted a bill authored by Pankhurst calling for women’s suffrage, based upon personal convictions and ties with the Pankhurst family. In addition, Mill wrote a paper calling for “perfect equality” for women and stated that the subordination of one sex to another is a “chief hindrance to human improvement” and should be replaced with a policy of “no admission of power or privilege on one side, nor disability on the other”.
Meanwhile Emelline Pankhurst and her followers named themselves the Suffragettes and began to engage in a series of agitational methods to gain support and attention. Small acts of...