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The Women's Suffragette Community Heritage Project 

In 2022 we created a new community theatre and history project aimed at using performance techniques to bring to life the inspirational story of the Women’s Suffragette Movement. The six-month project was supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the LSE Library. Throughout our project we created a group of local people interested in developing their historical enquiry skills and learning about the past whilst using performance techniques to help explore the key themes and events which took place. We worked with the LSE staff using their resources to research about what life was like for those people who were part of the Women’s Suffragette movement – the sacrifices made, how they were treated and the effects which it had upon their family life. We explored the strategies which they used including the direct action took, the protests held, the key figures, the treatment from the Government and Police, Prison life and the Hunger strikes. We used the National Archives to find diary entries, letters and newspaper reports and legal records to build an understanding of the story of the movement.


We then applied what we had learnt to devise a theatrical piece to share what we had learned with others in our local community. The performance brought to life the inspirational story of the strength which they showed and the impact which their battle has had upon our lives today. The performances were held in April 2023.

And the Project starts…


Engaging with the Community:

Right from the outset it was important for us to capture the attention of local people and encourage them to get involved and learn about the past. In preparation for the project, we used several tried and tested strategies as part of our public engagement strategy. These included:

-Posters and leaflets

-Social media (Our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages

-Library displays

-Invites to past members of our heritage projects

-Meet and greet sessions at local community groups

-Posters displayed at local Universities and LSE Library

-Word of mouth

And many more…

Working with LSE Library:

We carried out workshops and a guided tour around the LSE Library and were taught how to use their archives to develop a further understanding of The Women’s Suffragette Movement. Our workshops focused upon exploring the causes of the movement, the story of the movement, who was involved including key characters, Direct action, the protests, life in prison and the hunger strikes. We explored a range of different artefacts and archives which the LSE Library has as part of their wonderful resources. These workshops helped us to focus our ideas, aims and to create a set of historical enquiry questions to research.


​Check out our Members Blog Entry here:


A brief outline of the Women's Suffragette movement

What was the cause of the Women’s Suffragette movement

Today, all British citizens over the age of 18 share a fundamental human right: the right to vote and to have a voice in the democratic process. But this right is only the result of a hard-fought out battle. The suffrage campaigners of the 19th and early 20th century, including the Chartists, suffragists, and suffragettes, struggled against opposition from both parliament and the general public to eventually gain the vote for the entire British population in 1928. They believed that all men and women should be equal and if women were expected to abide by the country’s laws, then they should be allowed to have a say in what these laws were. They wanted to create a country where everyone was equal and valued and had an equal opportunity in life.


Before the first of a series of suffrage reforms in 1832, only 3% of the adult male population were qualified to vote. For the most part, the right to vote depended on how much you earned and the value of your property. For this reason, the majority of people who were able to vote were both wealthy and male. Throughout the 1800s, campaigners fought to extend the franchise and some concessions were made in 1867 and 1884. However, under these reforms women were still denied the vote and an increasing number of groups began campaigning for just that.


Campaigners for women’s suffrage initially wanted the vote for women on the same terms as it was granted to men. This is because many of the original campaigners for women’s suffrage were female middle-class homeowners. Their priority was that the franchise should be extended to women of their own status rather than to all women. This version of reform did not include either working-class men or women but, eventually, universal suffrage – votes for all – became the goal of the campaign.


Who took part in the campaign for women's suffrage?


Groups and societies dedicated to the cause of women’s suffrage had formed in the late 1860s. The first women's suffrage bill, however, came before parliament in 1832. In 1867 John Stuart Mill led the first parliament debate on women's suffrage, arguing for an amendment to the Second Reform Bill, which would have extended the vote to women property holders. Mill's proposed amendment was defeated – but acted as a catalyst for campaigners around Britain. In 1897, various local and national suffrage organisations came together under the banner of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) specifically to campaign for the vote for women on the same terms 'it is or may be granted to men'. The NUWSS was constitutional in its approach, preferring to hold public meetings and lobby parliament with petitions.


In contrast, the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), formed in 1903, took a more militant view. From the start it characterised its campaign with disruptive actions, known as 'direct action', and civil disobedience. Soon some suffragettes turned to violent direct action, such as attacks on property. They also used campaigning methods such as public meetings and marches.


Together, these two organisations dominated the campaign for women's suffrage and were run by key figures such as the Pankhursts and Millicent Fawcett. However, there were other organisations prominent in the campaign, including the Women's Freedom League (WFL), who split from the WSPU in 1907. These groups were often splinter groups of the two main organisations.


Why were they campaigning?


The inability to vote meant that Victorian women had very few rights and their disenfranchised status became a symbol of civil inequality. The denial of equal voting rights for women was supported by Queen Victoria who, in 1870, wrote, 'Let women be what God intended, a helpmate for man, but with totally different duties and vocations'. Campaigners wanted the vote to be granted to women as they felt that too often the law was biased against women and reinforced the idea of women as subordinate to men. For example, until 1882, a woman’s property often reverted to her husband on their marriage.


Steps towards equal rights came with the Married Woman's Property Acts of 1870, 1882 and 1884 (amended again in 1925). These enabled women to keep their property and money after marriage, where previously it was the automatic property of their husbands. Even after the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, however, the situation was not much improved – women now had to pay taxes on the businesses the new law permitted them to own, but did not have any say in how those taxes were spent. Campaigners felt that the best way to achieve equal status with men, in society and in the home, would be to get the vote and participate in the parliamentary process.


How did they campaign?


The campaign for women's suffrage took several forms and involved numerous groups and individuals. The constitutional National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) campaigned peacefully and used recognised ‘political’ methods such as lobbying parliament and collecting signatures for petitions. The group also held public meetings and published various pamphlets, leaflets, newspapers and journals outlining the reasons and justifications for granting women the vote. Members of the NUWSS and other such organisations were known as 'suffragists'.


In order to gain publicity and raise awareness, the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) engaged in disruptive tactics as well as a series of more violent actions. They chained themselves to railings, set fire to public and private property and disrupted speeches both at public meetings and in the House of Commons. Alongside this, the WSPU also took part in demonstrations, held public meetings and published newspapers (such as Votes for Women) and other literature. Members of the WSPU and other militant groups such as the Women's Freedom League were known as 'suffragettes'.


Information sheet: 

Images from Suffragettes Protests 

Watch this cool video which we found whilst researching of various photographs and film footage taken from the Women's Suffragettes various marches

A Protest Song

No protest is complete without a protest song. There were many different songs written for the Women's Suffragettes Protests across the world. In the UK, the most well-known one was called "The March of the Women"  written by Dame Ethel Smyth in 1911. She wrote the song for the Women's Social and Political Union, the leading organization of the suffragists in Britain.




"The March of the Women Song lyrics:

In the Workshop:

Whilst exploring the causes to the Women's Suffragette Movement we examined how they may have felt, the reasons to why they protested and fought so passionately for the vote. We devised short scenes and created a speech for our performance highlighting what we had learnt. This became known as "Peggy's speech" In this extract, women from different workplaces were invited to give a speech to the government outlining why they should be allowed to vote. 



Here's a copy of Peggy's speech which we wrote:


What would you say if you were giving a speech about why women should be given the vote? 

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Who were the Women's Suffragettes?


By the start of the 20th century there were two main elements in the campaign for votes for women, the suffragists and the suffragettes. The dividing line between these two strands was about tactics.


On the one hand, the suffragists wanted to act within the law and follow the route of political persuasion to win support for their cause. It was felt that any actions that broke the law would allow their opponents to portray them as irresponsible and provide further excuses to deny women the vote.


On the other hand, there were those who were frustrated by the lack of progress and non-confrontational approach of the suffragists. Some felt that it was time to pursue a course of civil disobedience and direct action, even if that meant breaking the law. They felt that if they caused enough problems for the authorities, then the government would be forced to address the issue.

The Suffragists


The suffragists were led by Millicent Fawcett, head of the National Union for Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). It was founded in 1897 but merged with other organisations that dated back to the 1860s. Its aim was to win women’s suffrage through considered debate and campaigning, such as petitions and non-violent marches.

The Suffragettes and the Pankhurst family


In 1903, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was formed when Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters became disappointed with the lack of progress by the NUWSS. It decided upon an approach that was more direct and confrontational, which we refer to as militancy. These campaigners were labelled ‘suffragettes’ by the press. It was meant as an insult, but the name stuck and was used by the members of the WSPU themselves.


The Pankhurst family, originally from Manchester, led this new struggle of militant suffragettes.  Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel Pankhurst were at the forefront of the WSPU’S campaigns and were arrested many times.


The militant tactics employed by the suffragettes shocked society. A large number of the suffragettes were middle-class women from respectable and well-connected families. In the very traditional atmosphere of the early twentieth century such behaviour was considered scandalous. However, there was also a lot of support, as seen by the 1908 demonstration in London that was attended by over 300,000 activists, the largest in British history.


"Who were the Suffragettes?" Information Sheet 

In the workshop...

Following on from our work with the LSE Library and Museum visits, we decided to research more into some of the key people who brought about the Women's Suffragette Movement and campaigned for Women's Rights. 

Below we have created a character study for some of the people we researched to support other people's learning. 

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Annie Kenney 

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Emily Davison

John Stuart Mill

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Millicent Fawcott

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Christabel Pankhurst

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Emmeline Pankhurst

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Mary Pollock Grant

Sylvia Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst 

We created a short film focusing upon Emmeline Pankhurst and the Pankhurst family. 

We also included one of Emmeline Pankhurst's famous speeches as part of our shared performance. In the scene, we act out one of the secret meetings where Mrs Pankhurst speaks to her supporters. 

We've developed a transcript of the famous speech which can be downloaded by clicking the button below:

Black Friday

In the 1908 election campaign, Herbert Henry Asquith of the Liberal Party promised to include women’s rights in a new law he intended to pass if elected Prime Minister. The suffragettes supported his campaign as a result, and he won the election. However, during his time as Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916, he went back on his promise and refused to reform voting law.


The WSPU organised a march in response to Asquith’s refusal to consider giving women the vote. Policemen and male bystanders met the women with violence. Hundreds were badly hurt, and the police violence resulted in some deaths. This day became later known as Black Friday.


Writing in a newspaper two years later, Emmeline Pankhurst reflected on the events of Black Friday and the impact it had on future campaigns - ‘Public conscience must be aroused, and it can only be done by attacks on public property. When women’s bodies were battered on Black Friday that was alright but when a few windowpanes are broken, that is all wrong.’


"Black Friday" Information Sheet 

In the Workshop:

Whilst learning about the horrific scene of the Black Friday we used recounts from witnesses, letters, newspaper articles and photographs to build an understanding of what happened. We felt strongly that we needed to include the scene in our performance but wanted to do it in a sensitive way creating the atmosphere but taking into consideration that the performance was going to be performed to younger audiences too. We decided to use one of the photographs from one of the front page articles from the Mirror newspaper which reported on the Black Friday. We then tried to recreate this image as a freeze frame a long with two readings of recounts from the time. 

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We've developed a transcript of the two recounts which can be downloaded by clicking the button below:

Miss Billinghurst's Recount 

The Mirror Report 

Direct Action & Militant Tactics.

We explored why many women decided to vote to use more direct action strategies and militant style tactics in order to gain more attention. Many women felt that by upping the stakes they would make a far greater impact. We were really inspired by the ideas which they came up with and we devised our own scene and a poem which we wrote entitled "Direct Action." Below is a scene where the poem is performed. 


Direct Action & Militant Tactics Information Sheet about The Women's Suffragettes

A copy of the poem "Direct Action" 

A copy of the "Direct Action" scene (Script) 


Prison life, Hunger Strikes and the Cat and Mouse Act

We explored what like for the Women Suggragettes when they were arrested and put into prison. Did you know that over 1000 suffragettes served time! Emmeline Pankhurst went to prison three times. Life was pretty grim in prison and many women protested about the way in which they were treated. We used this research to put together a scene which hopefully gives an insight into what life was like. Below is a scene where the poem is performed. 


Prison life, Hunger Strikes and the Cat and Mouse Information Sheet 

A letter from Eloise Duval to her father

Suffragette Mary Richardson's account of force feeding

Cat and Mouse Act 1913

Most of the public saw the forced feeding as an inhumane act and sympathy for the suffrage movement grew as a result. In response to this outcry of support for the strikers, the government released a new law called the Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act to prevent hunger strikers dying whilst in prison. The act stated that strikers would be released until they regained their strength, after which they would be imprisoned again to carry out the rest of their prison sentence.


This created a traumatic cycle for striking suffragettes. They were released to recover from the illness caused by striking injuries, after which they were rearrested and taken back to prison where they restarted their hunger strikes again. As a result, the act soon became known as the Cat and Mouse Act. However, many released suffragettes hid from the police when recovering so that they could not be rearrested.

Winning the vote


The Women’s Suffragette movement was a fight which led to the imprisonment of more than a thousand British women. In 1918 the vote was given to certain women over the age of 30. In 1925 the law recognised a mothers rights over her children and in 1928 all women were given the same right as men to vote.

Sharing what we learnt with the community 

We then brought together what we had learnt throughout the project to create a theatrical performance to bring to live the inspirational story of the Women’s Suffragette movement. The play received sell out performances and some wonderful feedback.


Please feel free to take a look at some of the photographs taken from the performance. We also recorded the performance at The Hen and Chicken Theatre. We have also put together a free educational pack with all of the documents featured on this webpage with the hope that it may help to support other people’s learning.

Free Education Pack 

Our project was kindly supported by: 

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