Rise Up Women! | Diane Atkinson

Summary of: Rise Up Women!: The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes
By: Diane Atkinson

Introduction

In the compelling book ‘Rise Up Women!: The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes’ by Diane Atkinson, we witness the incredible story of how a determined group of women, led by the Pankhurst family, took on the pursuit of women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom. Delve into their journey from early peaceful lobbying to the daring deeds of resistance and confrontation they employed to press for change. Learn about influential suffragettes like Christabel, Sylvia, and Davison, their dedication inspiring thousands of women to join the fight. Uncover the challenges they faced, from public backlash and brutalization at the hands of police to the initial exclusionary nature of the Representation of the People Act.

Suffrage Movement Unveiled

After the 1832 voting reforms, property-owning men in the UK could vote, but women remained disenfranchised. In 1867, philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that it was unjust that female taxpayers couldn’t elect their representatives, but there was little progress towards change. The Labour party leaders feared that only wealthy women would be given the vote, boosting Conservative and Liberal parties. Frustrated suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Sylvia began to lobby MPs directly but failed. However, in 1905, with the support of John Slack, the Liberal MP for St Albans, a Gender Bill was introduced to change the law; it was filibustered and laughed at by MPs. Realizing asking for change politely wasn’t going to work, Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) adopting “Deeds not words” as a motto. Christabel and Annie Kenney shocked people by interrupting a Liberal rally in Manchester, leading to their arrest and national press coverage.

The Militant Feminism of Pankhurst Women

Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters were the founding members of the WSPU, and their strong belief in deeds rather than words, and the idea that a military movement was necessary to achieve women’s rights, shaped the identity of the organization. Christabel and Sylvia were crucial to the cause, with Christabel becoming an icon of the movement and Sylvia designing its banners and membership cards. The Pankhursts’ occasionally dictatorial leadership style led to splinter groups forming, as democratic decision-making was seen as a waste of time. Anyone who questioned the need for more militancy, including vital money-raising supporters, was expelled. The militant feminism of the Pankhurst women inspired and motivated women throughout the UK to fight for their right to vote.

Suffragettes: A Fight for Equality

Imprisonment, Hunger strikes, and Force-feeding – A glimpse into Suffragettes’ protest for equality.

The Women’s Social and Political Union, also known as Suffragettes, found imprisonment the most effective method to gain public attention towards their fight for equal rights. However, the female activists discovered that their status as political prisoners wasn’t treated similarly to their male counterparts. The severe treatment included wearing prison clothes, cleaning floors, and being held in solitary confinement. This led to the onset of hunger strikes, the earliest initiated by Marion Dunlop-Wallace. Subsequently, many women were released due to health concerns.

Prisons responded to the strategy by initiating force-feeding, a painful and perilous procedure, using nasal and stomach tubes. The practice was unprecedented, leading to revulsion amongst medical professionals and MPs, who compared it to torture. Despite backlash, prisons persisted with force-feeding and began using a bromide sedative to manage resistance.

The Cat and Mouse Act was passed, requiring early-release prisoners to remain at home and the threat of rearrest if they began gaining weight. Nonetheless, the militants continued their fight with the Women’s Social and Political Union, leading to an unjust cycle of imprisonment, hunger strikes, and force-feeding.

In conclusion, this book’s excerpt depicts the harsh realities that Suffragettes had to face in their fight against gender inequality.

Suffragette Militancy

Suffragettes employed various tactics, including property damage and arson, to secure voting rights for women in the early 20th century.

In the early 20th century, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) employed various militant tactics to campaign for women’s voting rights. One of their earliest tactics involved throwing stones, wrapped in WSPU petitions, through the windows of political buildings to attract media attention. Although many gentler WSPU members found this strategy distressing, other campaigners embraced property damage as a legitimate form of protest.

Over time, suffragette militants escalated their actions, targeting over 270 buildings by 1912 and causing £6,600 worth of damage. Artworks were also targeted, with Mary Richardson attacking Velazquez’s The Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery and Clara Mary Lambert smashing porcelain objects in the British Museum. As public outcry grew, suffragette militants turned to arson and bombings, which proved counterproductive and generated a negative reaction from the media and the public.

Despite their controversial tactics, the suffragettes’ actions played a crucial role in securing voting rights for women. However, this came at a cost, as they faced brutalization from police and a growing backlash from the public. While their militancy may have seemed distressing, it is clear that the suffragettes were fighting for a just cause and helped transform the political landscape for future generations of women.

Suffrage Movement: Oppression and Violence

The suffrage movement faced severe oppression and violence from the very beginning. From force-feeding to physical attacks against militants, police brutality, and sexual assault, the movement encountered severe resistance. “Black Friday” marked one of the most violent confrontations when police officers physically and sexually assaulted over half of the 300 protestors led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Even women in wheelchairs and those with weak hearts were not spared. Two women lost their lives on that day. The level of violence and oppression was disturbing, and the next part of the story will reveal even more unfathomable events.

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