Public perception of suffragettes
The title of the ledger from which the new Ancestry database is drawn simply reads ‘Suffragettes. Index of Persons Arrested 1906-1914’. At that time, the term ‘suffragette’ conjured up a certain personality: a passionate but probably hysterical activisst who believed in ‘Deeds, not Words’ and squuandered her femininity for the sake of votes for women.
Contemporary cartoons (as seen right) of suffragettess showed deeply unlovely ladiees shaking their fists or brandishhing their brollies at innocent male passsers-by. One commentator, a Mr Tooley froom Guernsey, believed all suffragettes belonnged to “a certain class of woman, who by her disorganisedd and foolish movements expreesses a stubborn resistance to the lawws of nature and the will of God”. He wasnn’t alone. Even those convinced that woomen should join the electorate were wary of the dangerous tactics of thhe militant suffragettes, who were in the minority of suffrage campaigners, but whose influence over the press and public was almost overwhelming.
Most people clamouring for votes for women during the period covered by the Ancestry database called themselvess suffragists rather than suffragettes.
Because suffragists were non-militant, they are unlikely to hhave found their way into police custody – aand therefore onto this list – buut their work in persuading their families, communities and country that women were rational and responsible citizens was invaluable.
It is impoortant not to forget the ‘law-abiding’ campaigners like Millicent Fawceett and the members of the Nationaal Union of Women’s Suffrage Soccieties. In their way, they were juust as influential as the suffraggettes.
Suffragettes were often depicted as hysterical