Skip main navigation


Watch Genevieve talking about the Sufragette movement
The Great Reform Act of 1832 increased the UK electorate– the number of people that can vote– from about 366,000 to 650,000. This meant that the electorate now included around 18% of the adult male population. Little by little, the right to vote in British elections extended to more people. In 1867, the Parliamentary Reform Act increased the electorate to almost 2.5 million. This Act gave most skilled working class men in towns the vote. In 1872, the Ballot Act introduced secret ballots, so that voters would not feel under pressure to vote a certain way. However, half of the population were still not represented, as women did not have the vote. Some women wanted to change this.
It was Millicent Fawcett who formed a National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. This group lobbied politicians, demonstrated, and campaigned in order to get public support for their cause. This peaceful protest was all very well, but mother and daughter team Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst were impatient for change, and wanted to get the campaign noticed. They formed the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1903, and used rather more dramatic techniques to get attention. They broke shop windows, set buildings on fire, and disrupted public meetings. When they were arrested, they stopped eating. This was called hunger strike. There was violence and there were arrests.
On June the 4th, 1913, Emily Davison was killed at the Epsom Derby when she threw herself in front of the King’s horse. In 1915, suffragette and lawyer Helena Normanton said that denying women the right to vote went against one of the most important clauses in Magna Carta– the clause which states that right and justice should be neither delayed nor denied. During the First World War, women stopped protesting and joined in the war effort. Finally, in 1918, women were allowed to vote in general elections, but only those over 30 who had property or a university-level qualification. Full equality did not come until 1928.

Listen to Genevieve talking about the Suffragettes.

You’ll notice that there were two distinct Suffragette movements.

One, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, used peaceful tactics to win support for the cause. The Women’s Social and Political Union, on the other hand, set buildings on fire, disrupted meetings and even starved themselves to win publicity for their cause.

Find out what you can about the two different Suffragette movements. Which do you think was more effective and why?

This article is from the free online

Magna Carta

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education