Women’s Suffrage Research Guide
To mark International Women’s Day, we’re thrilled to share our latest research guide on women’s suffrage. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act gave the vote to all women in Britain who were over the age of 30 and met the minimum property qualification. Ten years later, the Equal Franchise Act gave women equal voting rights to men so that all women over the age of 21 could vote.
In this guide, we spotlight the personal papers of a range of individuals who contributed to heated debates about whether women should have the vote. From correspondence to diaries, ephemera to government papers, and everything in between.
This guide is also available in pdf format
Else Headlam-Morley (1865-1950)
Else Headlam-Morley, HDLM 7
The pianist and composer Elisabeth ‘Else’ Headlam-Morley was an active suffrage campaigner. She belonged to several organisations including the Women’s Social and Political Union and the Women’s Tax Resistance League. Her papers, containing an array of ephemera, speeches, and writing, are catalogued in her husband James Headlam-Morley’s collection.
HDLM 2/2/17: The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), 1911-15, including:
- the menu card for a commemoration dinner for suffragette prisoners
- flyers and leaflets
- order of march for the women’s procession in London, June 1911
- annual reports of the Union and also the Wimbledon branch
- letters from the Union
- pamphlet of ‘suffrage speeches from the dock’ (taken from a conspiracy trial at the Old Bailey, May 1912)
- official programme and instructions for the suffragette demonstration in Hyde Park, July 1912
- copy of Else’s official address to Emmeline Pankhurst, Hon. Treasurer of the WSPU, appealing to her to disassociate the WSPU from acts of violence
- issues of ‘The Suffragette’, May 1913 and May 1914
- Christabel Pankhurst’s speech on international militancy, delivered at Carnegie Hall, New York, Jan 1915, with a summary of her visit to the United States and Canada.
HDLM 2/2/18: Issues of Britannia, official newsletter of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), 1915-17.
HDLM 2/2/19: Women’s Tax Resistance League, 1913-14: Mainly pamphlets and flyers issued by the League, a non-party association of constitutional and militant suffragists dedicated to resisting Imperial Taxation. Includes a draft of a paper by Else advocating the withholding of taxes.
HDLM 1/4/10: Correspondence, January 1913 – November 1914: Includes a statement by Else advocating the suffragette campaign of tax resistance, if amendments to the Franchise Bill were turned down.
Margaret ‘Maye’ Dilke (1857-1914)
Margaret Dilke, known as Maye, was a member of several women’s suffrage organisations. These included the National Society for Women’s Suffrage and later the Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage. She became heavily involved in the work of these organisations as an executive committee member and treasurer.
REND 7/1, Letters to Maye Dilke, 1884-94: Correspondents include: Baker, Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage re municipal seats for women in Ireland; S C Burton, invitation to write on Women’s Suffrage with W Woodall; W Woodall re book on Women’s Suffrage and Infants Bill.
REND 7/2, 1883: Manuscripts by Maye Dilke on women’s suffrage.
Virginia Mary Crawford (1862-1948)
Virginia Crawford was educated partly in Lausanne, where she acquired an interest in literature and a talent for European languages. After her divorce in 1886, she converted to Catholicism and supported herself through prolific work as a journalist, including writing for the newspaper editor W. T. Stead; translating; historical research; and social work. During the interwar period she served as a Labour Party councillor on Marylebone Borough Council and campaigned for equal franchise rights for women through the Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society.
REND 12/11/1-4: Articles by Virginia Crawford on religious, social, and cultural subjects, c. 1890s-1940s.
William T Stead (1849-1912)
The newspaper editor William T. Stead frequently wrote about, and supported the work of suffrage campaigners. Stead’s collection includes his correspondence with several prominent activists, including:
William Bull (1863-1931)
The solicitor, MP, and diarist William Bull is known for his support of women’s suffrage. Before the First World War, he was a vocal member of the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association. He was also in regular correspondence with leading suffrage campaigners, including Sylvia Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst, who thanked him for paying a visit to the militant organiser Vera Wentworth in Holloway Prison in 1908.
BULL 3/16: Diary and correspondence, July – December 1907: Correspondence mainly between Bull and his wife, some of which describe debates in the House of Commons; including two letters from Christabel Pankhurst about his support in the campaign for votes for women.
BULL 3/17: Diary and correspondence, January – June 1908: Including letters from Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst concerning the votes for women campaign.
BULL 3/18: Diary and correspondence, July – December 1908: Letter from Christabel Pankhurst thanking Bull for visiting suffragette Vera Wentworth in Holloway Prison.
BULL 4/7: Diary and correspondence, January – May 1913: Includes theatre programmes; menus; letter of thanks to Bull from the Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association for his ‘strenuous support’.
BULL 5/11: Diary and correspondence, January – June 1924: Including correspondence with a suffragette on the gradual introduction of votes for women.
Suffrage correspondence in other collections
AMEL 2/5/8: Private and personal letters to Conservative politician Leopold Amery, 1901: Katharine Oliver on women’s suffrage; letter from Leopold Amery to Mrs. Humphry Ward [Mary Ward] on women’s suffrage.
AMEL 6/1/80: Press cuttings, 1906-11: Subjects include Leopold Amery’s part in the suffragette debate.
AMEL 6/3/31: Personal letters, 1911-13: Leopold’s view of the suffragette movement.
AHKY 1/1/46: Letters from Cabinet Secretary Sir Maurice Hankey to Henry Hankey, 1933: Subjects covered include opinions and observations on the danger of votes for women.
FISR 16/3: Letters from Admiral 1st Lord Fisher to George Lambert, 1916: Subjects include universal suffrage as a way of getting rid of the Government.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965)
Winston Churchill’s views on suffrage changed throughout his career. Churchill, in his younger years, felt that women should not vote, writing in 1875 that they are ‘well represented by their fathers, brothers, and husbands’. However in 1904, Churchill voted in favour of a female suffrage bill. Churchill’s collections are useful for not only illuminating his own changing views on suffrage, but also the range of campaigners who sent him correspondence on the subject.
- CHAR 4/2, 14 Jan 1904 – 22 Dec 1904: Correspondence including the Women’s Social and Political Union.
- CHAR 4/4, 2 Jul 1905 – 23 Dec 1905: Correspondents include William Royle, Chairman of the Manchester Liberal Association on demonstrations by suffragettes, including Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst, against Sir Edward Grey.
- CHAR 5/15: 2 Jul 1905 – 23 Dec 1905: Correspondents include the Dundee Women’s Suffrage Society.
- CHAR 2/29/52, 3 Mar 1907: Letter from Walter McLaren to Winston Churchill. Urges him not to go back on his support for women’s suffrage.
- CHAR 4/13, Jan 1907 – Dec 1907: Dr J Dulberg about the Manchester Jewish community’s reaction to female suffrage.
- CHAR 2/34/21, 14 April 1908: Letter from Lady Dorothy Howard (en route for Castle Howard, York) to Winston Churchill apologising for her importunate behaviour but stressing her commitment to women’s rights and hoping for his support.
- CHAR 2/34/65, 14 Jun 1908: Letter from Lady Dorothy Howard (Pudsey) to Winston Churchill. Disassociates herself from the ‘rowdyism’ of the Women’s Freedom League and describing the gloomy prospects for the Liberals in the Pudsey by-election.
- CHAR 12/3/62-64, 1910: Transcript of a letter from Alex Ballantine, a member of the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement to Winston Churchill.
- CHAR 2/52/22, 16 May 1911: Letter from Constance Lytton to Winston Churchill urging him to support the Conciliation (Women’s Franchise) Bill as a measure on which all parties can agree.
- CHAR 28/117/100, 15 Oct 1912: Copy of a letter from Winston Churchill to Lord Northcliffe thanking him for the present of a stick to be used against the suffragettes.
CHAR 2/47: Public and Political: General: Women’s Suffrage; Conciliation Bill: Correspondence and papers, 19 Oct 1909 – 16 Nov 1910.
CHAR 22/155/119: ‘The Franchise Question: Memorandum by the Chancellor of the Exchequer’, 8 Mar 1927.
CHAR 22/156: Official: Cabinet: papers 81 to 100, Feb-Mar 1927: Includes papers by various individuals on subjects including equal franchise and the effect of the enfranchisement of more women.
CHAR 22/183: Official: Cabinet: Franchise, 24 Apr – 7 Nov 1927: Includes various papers on the subject of the franchise.
Clementine Churchill (1885-1977)
Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine was a long-term supporter of women’s suffrage and women’s education. In March 1912, Clementine was so appalled after reading a letter published in The Times by the anti-suffragist Almroth Wright that she penned a sarcastic reply, noting how what was at stake was not ‘should women have votes?’ but ‘ought women not to be abolished altogether?’. Ironically adopting Almroth’s language, she signed off her rebuttal ‘One of the Doomed’.
For more on this exchange, see MCHL 5/8/106: Extracts from The Times and other sources relating to the Churchill family.
See also MCHL 5/1/219: ‘Clementine Churchill’: general correspondence, Jan 1975 – Jun 1977, Margaret Thatcher on Clementine Churchill’s early support for women’s suffrage, hoping that one day there would be a female Churchill in the House of Commons.
- MCHL 5/8/101, May-Jun 1908: Extracts from The Times and other sources relating to the Churchill family including encounters with suffragettes in Dundee.
- CHAR 12/3/49, 9 Dec 1910: Newspaper cutting from ‘Votes for Women’ of an article entitled ‘Why I struck at Mr Churchill’ by Hugh Franklin.
- CHAR 8/301, 1931: Research notes, proofs and cuttings relating to various articles in The Strand Magazine. Includes ‘Humours of electioneering’ on Winston Churchill’s experience of local elections and the suffragettes.
- CHAR 21/12, 4 Feb – July 1909: Press cuttings on speeches by Winston Churchill on female suffrage.
- CHAR 2/183/46-47, 12 Mar 1925: Pages from the ‘Patriot’ including marked letter from Nesta Webster complaining about political bias in the BBC on the issue of female suffrage.
- BRDW I Press 4 Cartoons, Apr 1905 – Nov 1906: Cartoons on female suffrage.
- BRDW I Press 15 Cartoons, Sept 1907 – May 1908: Cartoons on female suffrage and Socialism.
Suffrage mentions in other collections
- AVHL II 5/78: Margaret Keynes Diary, 1907-8: Typescript with some annotations concerning family life, visits, social events references to Frances Darwin and Maynard Keynes and women’s suffrage.
- WLMT 1/37: Phyllis Willmott Diary, 25 Jan-24 May 1968: mentions an exhibition at Congress House marking the 50th anniversary of votes for women.
- WCHL 15/2/36: Interview with Richard Pankhurst, 1991-92 [son of Emmeline Pankhurst]: The records include transcripts, video and audio tapes of interviews with people regarding their (or their relatives’) personal recollections of Sir Winston Churchill or their experiences of events related to Sir Winston’s career.
- SOBA: Audio podcasts for Women’s Parliamentary Radio, conducted by Boni Sones with contributions by Jackie Ashley, Deborah McGurran, and Linda Fairbrother. The first set of 76 interviews covering a range of issues from the centenary of women’s suffrage to Brexit debates.
For articles on the women’s suffrage movement in our collections, see:
- HMTN 2/1: Cutting of article ‘The Patient Suffragette’ by Sylvia Hayman, on Margery Corbett Ashby.
- DRAX 1/30: Article in ‘The Suffragette’ by Christabel Pankhurst.
- CHWL/PE 41 (box 14): Press cutting from the Western Daily Press, December 1909 on the court proceedings after the assault on Winston Churchill by Miss Theresa Garnett, Bristol suffragist.
- HSBR 2/3: The Vote, The Organ of the Women’s Freedom League, 25th March 1932.
Find out more
- Crawford, Elizabeth. The women’s suffrage movement: A reference guide 1866-1928. Routledge, 2003.
- The National Archives Suffrage Research Guide
- Women’s Library digital collections
By Cherish Watton, Archives Assistant.