5 fascinating facts about suffragettes

One hundred years ago this year, British women won the right to vote with the passage of the Representation of the People Act 1918.

This was following decades of campaigning, petitions, and very unladylike acts of radical protest.

Here are five surprising facts about the women’s suffrage movement.

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1. The Daily Mail gave them the name ‘suffragettes’

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word suffragette was first used in The Daily Mail in 1906.

British suffragette handing out pamphlets.

It was intended to distinguish Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) members from the more peaceful suffragists.

Meant to be derisive, the term quickly became a badge of pride, gladly adopted by the suffragettes themselves.

2. A mother and her daughters led the way

Emmeline Pankhurst, with her daughters Christabel and Sylvia, founded the WSPU in 1903.

Portrait of Emmeline Pankhurst.

With the motto “deeds not words,” the group was more militant than its many genteel predecessors, attracting attention to the cause through civil disobedience and violence.

They set fire to property, threw stones, chained themselves to railings, stormed Parliament, and went on hunger strikes while imprisoned for their actions.

3. One activist threw herself under the king’s horse

At the Epsom Derby in June 1913, suffragette Emily Davison threw herself in front of the king’s horse and was trampled to death.

Magazine cover honoring the late Emily Davison.

Her intention is unknown, but she may have been trying to attach a protest flag to the bridle of George V’s colt Anmer.

She was the first woman to die for the suffrage movement and brought additional coverage to the cause.

4. Even with voting rights, women were still unequal to men

Women in Britain got the right to vote in 1918, but with a caveat: they had to own property and be over 30 years old.

Parliament votes to give women the vote in January of 1918.

Men had looser property requirements and could cast ballots at 21.

Even so, women counted for 43% of the electorate, since many men had died in the First World War.

In 1928, the ability to vote was extended to all women over the age of 21.

5. You might find a suffragette in your family with Ancestry

Janice discovered on Ancestry that she had a great-great-aunt who was a suffragette. She was actually one of the movement’s founding members. And she went to prison twice for her beliefs.

Janice, whose relative was a suffragette.

Sheila used Ancestry to learn more about her great-aunt Jenny who was a member of the Women’s Freedom League. She travelled from Scotland to London in 1908 to join the demonstration at the House of Commons and was arrested along with the other protesters. Ancestry has a detailed collection of suffragette arrest records from 1906—1914 available.

Learning more about her great-aunt Jenny gave Sheila tremendous pride, inspiration and gratitude.

“I am very grateful indeed to my great-aunt and to the suffragettes generally for standing up for women’s rights at a time when women were in such a vulnerable position in so many ways.”

Thousands of women—and men—participated in the fight for suffrage. And many, many more were strong, inspiring females one can be proud to have descended from.

Do you have a suffragette or a fearless woman in your family story?

Find out with a free trial of Ancestry today.