The Suffrage Cause and Bryn Mawr - The British Lecturers

Program of the Women's Exhibition, 1909. Bryn Mawr College LibraryLike the American suffrage movement, the British campaign had both radical and more moderate branches. The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was founded in 1887 when seventeen separate suffrage organizations merged into one larger group. The NUWSS, like the NAWSA in the U.S., used moderate and legal strategies including petitioning, lecturing, publishing suffrage literature, polling, and letter writing. The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), founded in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst, was willing to use illegal, brazen and sometimes violent methods, including civil disobedience and hunger strikes, to draw attention to the issue of suffrage. Its main political strategy was to oppose whatever party was in political power as long as that party hindered the progress of women's suffrage.

Anne Cobden-Sanderson (1853-1926)

Anne Cobden-Sanderson.  C.C. Catt Albums, Bryn Mawr College LibraryAnne Cobden-Sanderson, a founding member of the British Women's Freedom League, was known for her advocacy of the role of working class women in the suffrage movement. Her 1907 address at Bryn Mawr, "Why I Went to Prison," was the first lecture hosted by the campus's newly founded chapter of the College Equal Suffrage League. Cobden-Sanderson was in the United States at the invitation of Harriet Stanton Blatch (the daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton), introducing the American suffrage community to British protest methods.


Beatrice Harraden (1864-1936)

On March 16, Miss Beatrice Harraden addressed us on 'A Woman Writer and the Woman Movement.' Miss Harraden has been intimately connected with the English militant movement from the beginning and at the end of the meeting answered our questions in regard to it very informingly. Her desire was to impress upon us that the driving force of English suffrage militancy is an ideal and the urgent necessity for readjustment of existing conditions.
The Lantern, 1913

Beatrice Harraden spoke for the College Equal Suffrage League only two days prior to the lecture given by Max Eastman. She was the author of many books and her writings were often published in Votes for Women, published by the Pethick-Lawrences.

Laurence Housman (1834-1959)

Laurence Housman.  Bryn Mawr College LibraryThe author, illustrator and dramatist Laurence Housman, one of the British militants, spoke on "Feminism" on March 18, 1916. Housman, the brother of poet A. E. Housman, helped found the Men's League for Woman's Suffrage in England in 1907. Like its sister organization, the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), the Men's League engaged in protest strategies that included civil disobedience, destruction of property and hunger strikes. Among the suffrage pamphlets in the library are Houseman's Sex-War and Woman's Suffrage, containing the text of a speech given by Housman on May 7, 1912. In it Housman presents a radical argument suggesting that the suffrage movement has highlighted a wide range of social and legal injustices caused by institutionalized sexism, and that it has energized women and sympathetic men to bring about drastic change.

Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)

Emmeline Pankhurst speaking to a Wall Street crowd.  Bryn Mawr College LibraryEmmeline Pankhurst was one of the most recognizable names in the British suffrage movement after the turn of the century. In 1903 Pankhurst and her two daughters, Christabel and Sylvia, founded the radical Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in reaction to the slow pace of progress in procuring the right to vote for British women. Between 1907 and 1914, Emmeline and her daughters were repeatedly arrested and during one eighteen month period, Emmeline engaged in ten hunger strikes. However, after the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the WSPU ceased all militant suffrage activities and re-focused its activities on helping with the war effort.

Pankhurst's visits to Bryn Mawr's campus in 1911 and 1916 demonstrated that Thomas was willing to host a controversial figure at the College and that there was an interested audience on campus. Pankhurst's status as an internationally known figure and her own interest in accepting two speaking engagements here also are indicative of Bryn Mawr's prominent place in the suffrage world.

Frank Moxon, What Forcible Feeding Means.  Women's Suffrage Ephemera Collection, Bryn Mawr College LibraryFrank Moxon. What Forcible Feeding Means. London: The Women's Press, 1914

This booklet, printed by the publishing house associated with Pankhurst's WSPU, belonged to Bryn Mawr alumna Mary Winsor '18, one of several College suffragists to be imprisoned. Winsor's interest in such a pamphlet is one indication of the influence the British militant movement had on radicals in the American suffrage movement.
Read the entire book.

Frederick W. Pethick-Lawrence (1871- 1961)

Frederick W. Pethick-Lawrence. Bryn Mawr College Library Frederick Pethick-Lawrence and his wife, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, co-edited the radical suffrage newspaper, Votes for Women, and actively supported the Pankhursts and the WSPU. Frederick could not officially be a member of the all-female WSPU, but the couple's home became the site of WSPU meetings and was known as a haven for suffragists returning from prison sentences. In 1912 both Frederick and Emmeline were arrested and sentenced to nine-month prison terms for breaking store windows. Frederick Pethick-Lawrence is also credited with helping to provide bail money for approximately 1,000 WSPU members.
Photograph courtesy of Spartacus Educational


Ethel Snowden (1880-1951) and Philip Snowden (1864-1937)

Invitation for the Snowden's lecture, November 18, 1910. Bryn Mawr College LibraryEthel and Philip Snowden visited Bryn Mawr at the request of the College Equal Suffrage League. Both of the Snowdens were known for their interest in temperance, feminism, socialism, and pacifism, and both wrote extensively on the social causes they promoted.

Philip was a long-time member in the Men's League for Women's Suffrage. He was elected the on the Socialist (Labour) ticket in the House of Commons in 1906. Ethel was one of the most famous NUWSS speakers, and it was she who converted Philip to a pro-suffrage stand. The January 1911 Alumnae Quarterly said that Ethel had "a gift of oratory and wit characterized by a gentle irony, and [was] a cogent as well as a charming speaker."

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Votes for Women banner. Women's Suffrage Ephemera Collection, Bryn Mawr College Library