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A New Age: 1900–1914

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It was 1900. Queen Victoria was on the throne, the Conservatives were in office and the British were fighting the Boers in South Africa. Life in the United Kingdom was emphatically hierarchical: the rich man was in his castle, the poor man was at his gate, women remained at home and white men ruled most of the world. Into this seemingly calm and ordered life burst a political whirlwind, a whirlwind created by women who protested at being subjugated and treated unequally. Not all women shared the same political perspective, neither did they always agree on tactics, policies or programmes of action, but they all shared a similar purpose: to make a difference.

Of course, women were not a homogenous group, and there were disagreements over politics, over policy and over practice but women’s political activism seemed robust. Moreover, the belief in Britain as the champion of domestic stability had been severely undermined by the women’s movement. There were achievements too: there were some improvements in pay and working conditions and women had kept their right to work in certain trades. Moreover, the campaign for the vote was gathering strength. The twentieth century seemed to augur well for activists.

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Fig. 2.1


  1. 1.

    Daily Gazette, 1 January 1900, p. 4.

  2. 2.

    Lord Ampthill, HL Debates, 26 October 1908, vol 194, cc 1558–64.

  3. 3.

    Olive Christian Malvery, The Soul Market, Hutchinson, 1907, p. 187. See for a superb overview of her life by Rebecca Odell.

  4. 4.

    Olive Christian Malvery, The Soul Market, Hutchinson, 1907, p. 187.

  5. 5.

    Malvery was also concerned about the ‘poor and homeless’ women whose only crime was ‘abject poverty. An article ‘Nobody’s Women’ painted the awful plight faced by such women. She used the profits from her writing to establish housing for homeless women—Night Shelters—and invited 1000 working girls from the East End to her wedding.

  6. 6.

    Mary Macarthur (1880–1921) was born in Glasgow to owners of a drapery business. She moved to London and worked in the Women’s Trade Union League; in 1906, she founded the National Union of Women Workers; in 1907, she founded the Woman Worker, a monthly journal. She was an honorary secretary of the People’s Suffrage Federation, which campaigned for adult suffrage. In 1911, she married William Anderson. In 1918, Mary stood as Labour candidate for Stourbridge but was defeated. She died, aged 40, from cancer. See Cathy Hunt’s biography, Righting the Wrong, Mary Macarthur 1880–1921, West Midlands History, 2019.

  7. 7.

    Activist, socialist, feminist, Fabian member and wife of the future Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald.

  8. 8.

    Aberdeen Journal, 3 May 1906, p. 6.

  9. 9.

    See Paula Bartley, Labour Women in Power, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019 for a biography of Bondfield.

  10. 10.

    Richard Mudie-Smith, Sweated Industries, being a handbook of the ‘Daily News’ Exhibition, May 1906, Bradbury, Agnew and co, 1906.

  11. 11.

    Hull Daily Mail, 11 June 1906, p. 4.

  12. 12.

    Cathy Hunt, Righting the Wrong, Mary Macarthur 1880–1921, The Working Woman’s Champion, West Midlands History, 2019, p. 83.

  13. 13.

    See Shelley Pennington and Belinda Westover, A Hidden Workforce, Homeworkers in England, 1850–1985, Macmillan Education, 1989.

  14. 14.

    Cathy Hunt, Righting the Wrong, Mary Macarthur 1880–1921, The Working Woman’s Champion, West Midlands History, 2019.

  15. 15.

    Ibid., p. 60.

  16. 16.

    Nan Sloane, The Women in the Room, Labour’s Forgotten History, I. B. Tauris, 2018. ILEA exhibition on Home-workers, 1980 by Carol Adams, Paula Bartley and Cathy Loxton.

  17. 17.

    In 1945, Trade Boards were replaced by wages councils.

  18. 18.

    Nan Sloane, The Women in the Room, Labour’s Forgotten History, I. B. Tauris, 2018, p. 166.

  19. 19.

    The Daily News, 25 August 1910, p. 5.

  20. 20.

    The County Express, 3 September 1910, p. 3.

  21. 21.

    Later in the century, it was due for demolition. However, a £1.1 million Heritage Lottery Fund allowed it to be taken down brick by brick and moved to the Black Country Museum, where it is now located.

  22. 22.

    See Tony Barnsley, Breaking Their Chains, Bookmarks, 2011.

  23. 23.

    Nan Sloane, The Women in the Room, Labour’s Forgotten History, I. B. Tauris, 2018, p. 179.

  24. 24.

    Ibid., p. 180.

  25. 25.

    The WIC was founded in 1894 by Clementina Black to research the conditions experienced by low-paid workers in order to help in legislative reforms.

  26. 26.

    Quoted in Pamela Cox and Annabel Hobley, Shopgirls, Arrow Books, 2014, p. 37.

  27. 27.

    London Daily News, 11 April 1901, p. 6.

  28. 28.


  29. 29.

    Letter to Margaret Bondfield quoted in Margaret Bondfield, Socialism for Shop Assistants, the Clarion Press, 1909, p. 4.

  30. 30.

    Preston Herald, 18 August 1906, p. 13.

  31. 31.

    The Fabian Society was founded in 1884. It attracted a number of Beatrice Webb, Emmeline Pankhurst, Margaret Bondfield, Ellen Wilkinson, Annie Besant and other intellectuals. It became known as the intellectual wing of the Labour Party.

  32. 32.

    Margaret Bondfield, ‘Women and the Factory System, Conditions—Past and Present’, Labour, July 1934, p. 255

  33. 33.

    Burnley Express, 5 August 1908, p. 3.

  34. 34.

    Margaret Bondfield, A Life’s Work, 1948, p. 129.

  35. 35.

    See Jill Liddington’s path-breaking One Hand Tied Behind Us: The Rise of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, Virago Press, 1978. More has been written on women’s suffrage than any other women’s campaign. The best book to start with is Diane Atkinson’s Rise Up Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes, Bloomsbury, 2018. Others include Paula Bartley’s Votes for Women 1860–1928, Hodder and Stoughton’s 1998 and Emmeline Pankhurst, Routledge, 2002; Julia Bush’s Women Against the Vote: Female Anti-Suffragism in Britain, OUP, 2007; Krista Cowman’s Mrs Brown is a Man and a Brother, Liverpool University Press, 2004; Elizabeth Crawford’s The Women’s Suffrage Movement; a Reference Guide, Routledge, 1999; Claire Eustance, Joan Ryan and Laura Ugolini’s Suffrage Reader: Charting Directions in Suffrage History, Bloomsbury, 2000; Brian Harrison’s Separate Spheres: The Opposition to Women’s Suffrage in Great Britain, Croom Helm, 1978; Sandra Stanley Holton’s Feminism and Democracy: Women’s Suffrage and Reform Politics, 1900–1918, CUP, 1986; Maroula Joannou and June Purvis, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: New Feminist Perspectives, MUP, 1998; Angela V. John and Claire Eustance’s The Men’s Share: Masculinities, Male Support and Women’s Suffrage, 1890–1920, Routledge, 1997; Hilda Kean’s Deeds Not Words: The Lives of Suffragette Teachers, Pluto, 1990; Leah Leneman’s ‘A Guid Cause’: The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland, Aberdeen University Press, 1991; Rosemary Owens Cullen’s Smashing Times: A History of the Irish Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1889–1970, Gill and Macmillan,’s2005; Martin Pugh, The March of the Women: A Revisionist Analysis of the Campaign for Women’s Suffrage, 1866–1914, OUP, 2000; June Purvis and Sandra Stanley Holton’s Votes for Women, Routledge, 2000; June Purvis’ Emmeline Pankhurst, Routledge, 2002; Constance Rover’s Women’s Suffrage and Party Politics in Britain, 1866–1914, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967; Sarah-Beth Watkins’ Ireland’s Suffragettes: The Women Who Fought for the Vote, the History Press, 2014.

  36. 36.

    ‘A Year’s Record,’ The Suffragette, 26 December 1913, p. 258,

  37. 37.

    Kitty Marion, quoted in Diane Atkinson’s Rise Up, Women!, Bloomsbury, 2018, p. 175.

  38. 38.

    Daily Mirror, 23 September 1913, p. 4.

  39. 39.


  40. 40.

    Founded in 1907 by women artists to help with the first suffrage demonstration held that year. The Artists’ Suffrage League designed banners, leaflets, cartoons, postcards and posters for the NUWSS but it remained a separate organisation. Many were members of the Women’s Guild of Arts, established in 1907. See Zoe Thomas, Women Art Workers and the Arts and Crafts Movement, MUP, 2020, for an overview of this group.

  41. 41.

    Founded in 1903 at the Criterion restaurant in London. It was open to anyone involved in the theatre and worked for votes for women by staging plays. The League helped both the WSPU and the NUWSS and neither supported nor condemned militancy. Two of its leading member s belonged to the WSPU.

  42. 42.

    Founded in 1908 to obtain the vote for women on the same terms as men and to use methods ‘proper to writers—the use of the pen’. It was set up by WSPU members.

  43. 43.

    Founded in 1909 and linked to the NUWSS. Membership was open to male and female graduates of the University of London. One of its vice presidents was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who was, until 1911, a members of the WSPU.

  44. 44.

    Founded in 1911 to bring together Catholic men and women to campaign for the vote. It was non-party and was committed to using peaceful methods.

  45. 45.

    Founded in 1909 to bring together members of the Church of England in order to campaign for the vote. It believed in the power of prayer to gain the vote, and on the first Sunday of every month special prayers were said in support of women’s suffrage. It used peaceful protest but would not declare itself opposed to militancy.

  46. 46.

    Founded around 1911 by members of the Society of Friends who were known as Quakers.

  47. 47.

    Founded in 1912 to unite Jewish suffragists of all shades of opinion. It believed in peaceful methods but synagogue services were occasionally interrupted by its members.

  48. 48.

    Founded in 1908 to work for votes for women on the same terms as men. It opposed full universal suffrage. It refused to work for MPs opposed to votes for women

  49. 49.

    It later amalgamated with the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage. See Martine Faraut, ‘Women resisting the vote: a case of anti-feminism?’, Women’s History Review, September 2007.

  50. 50.

    Martine Faraut, ‘Women resisting the vote: a case of anti-feminism?’, Women’s History Review, September 2007, p. 612.

  51. 51.

    Bush, Julia, ‘British Women’s Anti-Suffragism and the Forward Policy, 1908–1914’, Women’s History Review, Vol 11, Number 3, 2002.

  52. 52.

    Margaret Bondfield, A Life’s Work, Hutchinson, 1948, p. 82.

  53. 53.

    Margaret Bondfield and Teresa Billington-Greig, Sex Equality versus Adult Suffrage, Verbatim Report of Debate, December 3rd 1907, p. 15.

  54. 54.


  55. 55.

    Quoted in Agnes Mary Hamilton, Margaret Bondfield, Leonard Parsons, 1984, p. 84?

  56. 56.

    Margaret Bondfield and Teresa Billington-Greig, Sex Equality versus Adult Suffrage, Verbatim Report of Debate, 3 December 1907, p. 15.

  57. 57.

    Margaret Bondfield, Shop Workers and the Vote, People’s Suffrage Federation, 1911, p. 9.

  58. 58.

    Margaret MacDonald quoted in Gifford, Lewis Eva Gore Booth and Esther Roper, Pandora Press, 1988.

  59. 59.

    This ruling was overturned by the secretary of state for Scotland. See The Barmaid Question, for an overview of this campaign.

  60. 60.

    The Globe, 15 March 1907, p. 3.

  61. 61.


  62. 62.

    Eva Gore Booth (1870–1926) was the daughter of an Irish baronet and his wife and sister to Constance Markiewitz, the first woman to be elected to the British Parliament. She was involved in campaigns on behalf of pitbrow women, flower sellers and barmaids. She co-founded the Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile and Other Workers’ Representation Committee, a suffragist organisation.

  63. 63.

    Esther Roper (1868–1938) was the daughter of a Church Missionary Society parents. In 1891, she was awarded a degree from Owens College, Manchester, one of the first women to achieve this. Between 1894 and 1905, Roper was secretary of the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage; in 1903, she co-founded the Lancashire and Cheshire Women Textile and Other Workers’ Representation Committee with Eva Gore Booth. In 1913, she moved to London and became involved in the Women’s Peace Crusade.

  64. 64.

    Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 29 November, 1907, p. 7.

  65. 65.

    David Beckingham, ‘Banning the barmaid: times, space and alcohol licensing in 1900s Glasgow’, Social and Cultural Geography, accessed on-line December 2019; Sonja Tiernan, ‘Eva Gore-Booth champion of the barmaids’, Irish Independent News, 1 July 2012.

  66. 66.

    Evening Telegraph, Dundee, 16 March 1908, p. 2.

  67. 67.

    Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 15 May 1908, p. 7.

  68. 68.

    Gifford Lewis, Eva Gore Booth and Esther Roper, Pandora Press, 1988.

  69. 69.

    Dr Rutherford, MP for Middlesex, Hansard, 2 November 1908, vol 195 cc 796–907.

  70. 70.

    Hansard, 2 November 1908, vol 195 cc 796–907.

  71. 71.


  72. 72.

    F. E. Smith, Hansard, 2 November 1908, vol 195 cc 796–907.

  73. 73.

    Mr Smillie, Miners’ Federation Annual Conference Report, October 1911, p. 33.

  74. 74.

    The men who voted for the amendment consisted of six Labour MPs, eight Liberals and one Conservative. At least five of the Labour MPs were former miners. The Conservative MP was a progressive who was active on the Slave Trade Commission. Those who voted against belonged to the established right wing.

  75. 75.

    Paula Bartley, ‘Suffragettes, class and pit-brow women’, History Review, December 1999, p. 80.

  76. 76.


  77. 77.

    Esther Roper, Wigan Examiner, 5 October 1911.

  78. 78.

    Maude Royden, Votes and Wages, NUSWW, October 1911.

  79. 79.

    See Tanya Cheadle, Sexual Progressives, Reimagining Intimacy in Scotland, 1880–1914, MUP, 2020.

  80. 80.

    Christabel Pankhurst, ‘The Great Scourge and How to Fight It’, S. Jeffreys, The Sexuality Debates, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987, p. 318.

  81. 81.

    Louise Jackson, ‘The Regulation of Violence in Interwar Britain’, in Shani D’Cruze’s Everyday Violence in Britain, 1850–1950, Pearson, 2000.

  82. 82.

    The Times, 9 February 1904, p. 2.

  83. 83.

    Olive Malvery, The White Slave Trade, Hutchinson, 1912.

  84. 84.

    The Act of Union of 1800 abolished Ireland as a separate kingdom and joined her with Great Britain to form the United Kingdom. The Irish Parliament disappeared, and Ireland was represented at Westminster. The Union between the countries was denounced as a fraud, producing subordination not equality.

  85. 85.

    See David Thackeray, ‘Home and Politics: Women and Conservative Activism in Early Twentieth-Century Britain’, Journal of British Studies, Vol 49, No 4, 2010, for the history of WUTRA.

  86. 86.


  87. 87.


  88. 88.


  89. 89.


  90. 90.

    See Diane Urquhart “Open the eyes of England”: female unionism and conservatism, 1886–1914’, in Clarisse Berthezène and Julie Gottlieb, Re-Thinking Right-Wing Women, Gender and the Conservative Party, 1880s to the present, MUP, 2017, for an overview of this.

  91. 91.

    The Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Review, 1 April 1914, p. 377.

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Bartley, P. (2022). A New Age: 1900–1914. In: Women’s Activism in Twentieth-Century Britain. Gender and History. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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