The women’s suffrage movement began on both sides of the Atlantic with passion and grit. This revolution was the descendant of the Enlightenment ideas placed forth by philosophers during The Age of Reason. The idea of the suffrage movement was founded upon the concept that all human beings are created equal and are born with natural rights that they have a duty and an obligation to exercise. The Women’s Rights Movement was a struggle throughout because of the people in power who opposed it, but the movement was ultimately triumphant because of the men and women who fought devotedly for their beliefs. That fight for the vote now allows women today to freely practice a fundamental right. It took a hundred years for it to come to pass, beginning at the time of Mary Wollstonecraft and the Marquis de Condorcet. The law now permits women to practice the rights and responsibilities that come with citizenship.
The women’s suffrage movement became a struggle to achieve because of the people, who opposed the notion that women had a duty to stand up for their natural-born rights. The movement imposed the principles of equality, liberty, and political justice and these ideas were not advantageous to the people who had power in a divided society. The proletarians were the ones that supported women’s rights, but the prominent, affluent, and powerful were afraid to change a system that worked to their benefit. The socialist and feminist ideas were not appealing to the people who had positions in parliament or government. Henry James, a British politician made a speech in The House of Commons in 1871, that gave reasons to neglect and disregard social equality when it came to matters of the state. He warningly advised the House of the wrongdoings of the opposite sex, “… women would have to make judgments on the basis of information obtained second-hand, and not from practical experience?”
Henry James states that women do not have superior experience when it comes to having an opinion and deciding on political matters. James is part of a political system that gives him power and authority to converse to a group of prominent men and place substantial amount of influence on them. The socialist vision of equality cannot chime with men who wish to gain a higher social standing in a community. A year before this speech, in 1870, the husband of Emmeline Pankhurst, (a women who was the driving force behind the suffragettes) Dr. Richard Pankhurst, drafted the first bill that allowed women to get the right to vote known as the Women’s Disabilities Removal Bill which was later introduced in House of Commons. This proves that the ideas of Henry James are slowly beginning to deteriorate because men and women were on their way to persuading the government that women needed their natural rights. This can be compared to the Industrial Revolution and the dominance the factory owners had over their workers. The factory owners did not want to give up the power that they had over their laborers the way the people of Parliament wouldn’t want to believe that their power might be equal to that of a women’s.
Francesco Crispi, a liberal Italian politician believed that women must not have an opinion when it comes to political arrangements that are made by the government. Women are made for the well being of the man. Crispi regarded women as peacemakers that are made to calm a man after a tiresome and laborious day. In 1883, to the Italian Senate, Crispi authoritatively declared “… the day when women participate in public business, you will find war.” He believed that the suffrage movement would cause social and political disorders in society that would lead to an universal imbalance. He is considered a liberal but his ideas reflect on orthodox and traditional ways of thinking. This “liberal” Italian politician is ignorant of the ideas of the Enlightenment and has taken many steps back because of his ideals. The French philosopher Condorcet said, “Have they all not violated the principle of equality of rights in tranquility depriving one half of the human race of the right of taking part in the formation of laws by the exclusion of women from the rights of citizenship.” Francesco Crispi, the future Prime Minister of Italy, is known as the precursor of Benito Mussolini, a man who was against women’s rights. Crispi is also speaking to the Italian senate and wants to appeal to them, and so his ideas, like that of Henry James are directed to commanding men of government. Many Italian men might be against the concept of social equality of both genders. If involved in government, male authoritarians ascertain that women may neglect their household duties and the peace that they create for the man’s benefit and pleasure will slowly diminish.
Henry James and Francesco Crispi have similar ideologies to that of Count Reventlow. Count Reventlow, a Nazi politician spoke for the Prevention of the Emancipation of Women in 1912. The German man appreciates only a certain kind of women. Reventlow passionately stated to the crowd, “Women want to rule and we don’t want to let them. The German Empire was created with blood and iron. That was man’s work. If women helped… they stood behind their men in battle and fired them on to kill as many enemies as possible.” Count Reventlow believes that men have fought for their rights during wars, and he only appreciates the women who supported their men when they fought for their country, and he looks down on the women who fight for their individual rights. Women are meant to support men and are not meant to make decisions for the man. Reventlow, a German naval officer and Nazi politician enjoys both his national identity and his place in the social hierarchy. Since he is speaking to a group of people who are against the women’s suffrage movement, we can decipher that he is encouraging men & women of wealthy backgrounds who do not need to the right to vote to work against a proletarian cause. Rosa Luxemburg a German revolutionary socialist on the same year (1912), made a speech concerning Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle.
“In truth, our state is interested in keeping the vote from working women and from them alone. It rightly fears they will threaten the traditional institutions of class rule, for instance militarism (of which no thinking proletarian woman can help being a deadly enemy), monarchy, the systematic robbery of duties and taxes on groceries, etc. Women’s suffrage is a horror and abomination for the present capitalist state because behind it stand millions of women who would strengthen the enemy within, i.e., revolutionary Social Democracy.” Rosa Luxemburg has remembered the ideas of Condorcet and Wollstonecraft and through her words, like Count Reventlow, is trying to influence a specific group of people. Their ideas vary and are at opposite ends of the table. Luxemburg is moving forward with her ideas about equality in gender, and Reventlow makes a proposition to the people of authority to pause and realize that women do not deserve the rights that men have gained over time. However, Count Reventlow has forgotten the times when men and women (proletarians), together fought for individual rights like the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. In these cases, women did not only support the men, but were willing to fight along with them to gain the justice that they deserved.
Because of the rising importance of the suffrage movement, Reventlow wants men and women on his side. The ideas of the socialist women were growing stronger and the ideas of the prominent men were only addressed to the opulent. In 1919, a Speaker for the French Senatorial Commission concurred with the ideas of James, Crispi, and Reventlow, with a degrading and derogatory tone. “Rather than handling the ballot, the hands of women are meant to be kissed… ” The speaker is trying to say that women are given so much love and it is not necessary for them to acquire an unrealistic advantage when they already have been given much. Like the three men before him, this French man has acquired for himself a position of power and comfort in society. Like Count Reventlow, this French man is moving backwards. In the same year of this speech, the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution was submitted to the Congress for ratification. It said, “The United States Constitution prohibits any United States citizen to be denied the right to vote based on sex.” The world was moving forward in its ways and the French man maintains an archaic understanding of women. Although the speaker, in some ways praises the opposite sex, he negates the fact that their ideas would be necessary from a political standpoint.
However, when Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) she vehemently ridiculed prevailing notions about women as helpless, charming, adornments in the household. Nevertheless, women themselves denied the fact that they should be give the right to vote. Mrs. Humphry Ward, a novelist and one of the founders of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League in 1889 announced candidly that women “contribute more precious elements to national life” and that women have “peculiar excellencies”. Mrs. Humphry Ward believes that childbearing and household work are the only duties of the female. She takes her husband’s name and thinks she is meant to be represented by her husband. She has confidence in the idea that the wife is meant to be the husband’s environment of tranquility, and not a political advisor who neglects the duties she was born with.
Ultimately, it can be deduced that the opposing parties of the Women’s Suffrage Movement were affluent and content men and women who were against viewing equality between both the sexes as an essential liberty. They believed that women belonged to their husbands; they were homemakers and peacemakers, and fighting for an individualistic cause would create and imbalance in society. They firmly believed that if given the vote, women would be incapable to make political and social decisions.
The women’s suffrage movement became a successful enterprise primarily because of the men & women who passionately fought for their beliefs. Many of the paramount women who fought for their beliefs of equality were born into the Pankhurst Family. The Pankhurst Family devotedly fought for their natural rights and the phrase “Deeds not Words”. Emmeline (the mother), Christabel, and Sylvia Pankhurst formed the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903. The WSPU was one of the most militant organizations that advocated “Deeds not words”. Emmeline Pankhurst stopped believing that moderate speeches was the way to achieve the vote and this later allowed them to violently protest against the unfair persecutions of the women’s suffrage movement.
The Pankhurst’s were arrested and jailed several times, went on hunger strikes and were brutally force-fed. These women debunked an archaic understanding of the oppression of women. They taught the working class woman to fend for themselves and they moved forward from tradition and an orthodox way of life. Another feminist would also agree with the actions of the Pankhurst women. Emily Wilding Davison became a martyr for the suffragette movement at the Epsom Derby. Davison joined the WSPU, and she, like the Pankhurst’s, fought militantly to achieve women’s suffrage and dedicated themselves towards the movement. She was also imprisoned many times, went on hunger strikes, and was force-fed. At the Epsom Derby in 1913, Davison tried to pull down the King George V’s horse, was trampled by the horse and died four days later in the hospital. She was influenced by the movement to perform this act, and her martyrdom allowed the feminist effort to proceed faster into gaining the vote for women. The Pankhurst’s and Davison remembered the socialist ideas; they remembered when Karl Marx and Frederick Engels said, during the Industrial Revolution that, “ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions… The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” They also remembered Samuel Smiles ideas of working hard to reach a higher destination in the ladder of success. He theorized, “Such reforms can only be effected by means of individual action, economy, self-denial.” Most importantly, they remembered John Locke, and his Enlightenment ideas when he said, “bad laws need not be obeyed.”
Clara Zetkin, a German socialist leader, reiterated the points that the Pankhurst family made. Zetkin gave women a desire to break away from male supremacy and said that a woman’s life was not limited to the confines of her home, but her ideas must be placed in government and other social aspects of life. She ardently said in 1907, “We socialists do not only demand women’s suffrage as a natural right with which women are born; we demand it as a social right.” She would disregard and oppose the ideas of her fellow German, Count Reventlow, and agree with the ideas of Rosa Luxemburg. Zetkin is yearning for equal opportunities for women like Anna Mozzoni, an Italian Feminist. In 1871, Mozzoni aggressively introduces the oppression of women by saying, “The woman question affirms more profoundly the roots of democracy, discredits the rule of force, advances women in the economic sphere, and weakens the power of traditional prejudices.” Mozzoni would say that giving women the right to vote would be for the betterment of society and will not lead to an unrealistic downfall; by doing this women can truly progress in society. She has a different view from that of Mrs. Humphrey Ward and the prominent men who believed in the same things Mrs. Ward believed in. Zetkin and Mozzoni are fighting for their voices to be heard, just the way the Pankhurst family militantly fought. In 1879 Mozzoni published her translation from English into Italian of On the Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill.
John Stuart Mill was one of the first voices who were for the enfranchisement of women. Mill stated that society and its perception of gender must be reconstructed so that all humans, not one-half of them should be able to be considered as equals and have the same rights. Mill’s ethical system of Utilitarianism (greatest good for the greatest number) defended the emancipation of women. In his essay, he strongly describes why women are to be raised on a platform equal to that of men. “The moral regeneration of mankind will only really commence when the family is placed under the rule of equal justice, and when human beings begin to cultivate their strongest sympathy with those who are equal in rights.” His wife, Harriet Taylor Mill, who co-wrote The Subjection of Women, reiterated her husband’s ideas in her own essay. She wrote The Enfranchisement of Women and obviously stated that “Women have as good a claim as men have, in point of personal right, to the suffrage, or to any place in the jury-box, it would be difficult for any one to deny.” The visions of John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill contradict the ideologies of Mrs. Humphry Ward and Francesco Crispi. The belief that all women are placed in this world merely for the purpose of bearing children, and for the sole benefit of the man was discredited by the earnest people who believed that women’s rights were essential.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution was passed and in 1928, three months before the death of Emmeline Pankhurst, English women got their right to vote. Women wanted a voice in the government and wished to overthrow the male dominance that was prevalent in society. The work of the suffragettes proved that women are citizens, and they accomplished the visions of Wollstonecraft & Condorcet who said that it was an insult to deny one-half of the population the rights and opportunities that were given to the other half. The suppression of women in society was beginning to end and the movement allowed women to achieve a right that was denied of them for years.
“Bad laws need not be obeyed.” John Locke justified the French Revolution with this statement. The woman’s suffrage movement was a visionary creation, which has now become a part of history. The people with power & wealth were obstacles that were jumped through by the supporters of the movement. The fight was ambitious and aggressive in the eyes of the opposition, but to the suffragettes, was a symbol of natural and social rights. It insisted that woman must be an absolute equal in the sight of men. The advocates for the cause of woman, ultimately shattered the views of the opposition to become a successful and triumphant enterprise that eventually lead to a fundamental change in government and society.
Source by Kirsten Ebenezer