AskDefine | Define suffragette

Dictionary Definition

suffragette n : a woman advocate of women's right to vote (especially a militant advocate in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the 20th century)

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. A female supporter, often militant, of women's right to vote in the early 20th century



Extensive Definition

The title of suffragette was given to members of the women's suffrage movement, originally in the United Kingdom. The term was originally coined by the Daily Mail newspaper as a derogatory term toward the WSPU members, however the former members of the WSPU adopted this term for themselves. The term comes from the word suffrage, which means the right to vote. The word was originally coined to describe a more radical faction of the suffrage movement in the UK, mainly members of the Women's Social and Political Union, headed by Emmeline Pankhurst. Suffragist is a more general term for members of the movement, whether radical or conservative, male or female. American women preferred this more inclusive title, but people in the United States who were hostile to suffrage for the American woman used the UK word as a pejorative, since the feminine-sounding version could be dismissed more easily. In the UK, the term "suffragist" is usually used solely to describe members of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

Origins of women's suffrage movements

The woman's suffrage movement was one primarily run by working class women. These women were frustrated by their social and economic situation and sought for an outlet through which to initiate change. Their struggles for change within society, along with the work of such advocates for women’s rights as John Stuart Mill, were enough to spearhead a movement that would encompass mass groups of women fighting for suffrage. Mill had first brought the idea of women’s suffrage up in the platform he presented to British electors in 1865. He would later be joined by numerous men and women fighting for the same cause.
New Zealand was the first self-governing country in the world to grant women the vote. In 1893, all women over the age of 21 were permitted to vote in parliamentary elections.

Early 20th-century suffrage movements

Suffragettes carried out direct action such as chaining themselves to railings, setting fire to the contents of mailboxes, smashing windows and on occasions setting off bombs. One suffragette, Emily Davison, died after she stepped out in front of the King's horse, Anmer, at the Epsom Derby of 1913. Many of her fellow suffragettes were imprisoned and went on hunger strikes, during which they were restrained and forcibly fed (see Force-feeding) and had reached the height of their campaign by 1912.
The so-called Cat and Mouse Act was passed by the British government to prevent suffragettes from obtaining public sympathy; it provided the release of those whose hunger strikes had brought them sickness, as well as their re-imprisonment once they had recovered.
Nevertheless, protests continued on both sides of the Atlantic. Alice Paul and Lucy Burns led a series of protests against the Wilson Administration in Washington that referred to "Kaiser Wilson" and compared the plight of the German people with that of American women (see picture).
During World War I, a serious shortage of able-bodied men ("manpower") occurred, and women were required to take on many of the traditional male roles. This led to a new view of what a woman was capable of doing. The war also caused a split in the British suffragette movement, with the mainstream, represented by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union, calling a 'ceasefire' in their campaign for the duration of the war, while more radical suffragettes, represented by Sylvia Pankhurst's Women's Suffrage Federation continued the struggle.
Political movement towards women's suffrage began during the war and in 1918, the Parliament of the United Kingdom passed an act (the Representation of the People Act 1918) granting the vote to: women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5, and graduates of British universities. The right to vote of American women was codified in the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. Finally, women in the United Kingdom achieved suffrage on the same terms as men in 1928.

American and English Campaigners for Women's Suffrage

New Zealand suffragettes



  • Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (New York: Merriam Webster, 1983) ISBN 0-87779-511-8
  • Suffragettes versus Suffragists - website comparing aims and methods of Women’s Social and Political Union (Suffragettes) to National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Suffragists)
  • Suffragists vs. Suffragettes - brief article outlining origins of term "suffragette", usage of term and links to other sources.
  • Melanie Phillips. The Ascent of Woman: A History of the Suffragette Movement.

External links

suffragette in Czech: Sufražetka
suffragette in Danish: Suffragette
suffragette in German: Suffragette
suffragette in Esperanto: Sufrageto
suffragette in French: Suffragette
suffragette in Italian: Suffragette
suffragette in Hebrew: סופרג'יזם
suffragette in Dutch: Suffragette
suffragette in Norwegian: Suffragettene
suffragette in Polish: Sufrażystka
suffragette in Russian: Суфражистки
suffragette in Slovak: Sufražetka
suffragette in Serbian: Суфражеткиње
suffragette in Serbo-Croatian: Sufražetkinje
suffragette in Finnish: Suffragetti
suffragette in Swedish: Suffragetter
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