Women's Suffrage in The United Kingdom - Early Suffragist Societies

Early Suffragist Societies

In the same year that John Stuart Mill was elected, the first Ladies Discussion Society was formed, debating whether women should be involved in public affairs. Although a society for suffrage was proposed, this was turned down on the grounds that it might be taken over by extremists.

However, later that year Leigh Smith Bodichon formed the first Women's Suffrage Committee and within a fortnight collected 1,500 signatures in favour of female suffrage in advance to the second Reform Bill.

The Manchester Suffrage Committee was founded in February 1867. The secretary, Lydia Becker, wrote letters both to Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and to The Spectator. She was also involved with the London group, and organised the collection of more signatures.

However, in June the London group split, partly a result of party allegiance, and partly the result of tactical issues. Conservative members wished to move slowly to avoid alarming public opinion, while Liberals generally opposed this apparent dilution of political conviction. As a result, Helen Taylor founded the London National Society for Women's Suffrage which set up strong links with Manchester and Edinburgh.

Although these early splits left the movement divided and sometimes leaderless, it allowed Lydia Becker to have a stronger influence. The suffragists were known as the parliamentaries.

In Ireland, the Dublin Women's Suffrage Association was established in 1874. As well as campaigning for women's suffrage, it sought to advance women's position in local government. In 1898 it changed its name to the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association.

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