Caroline Moorehead in The Guardian:
On 21 June 1908, half a million people gathered in Hyde Park to celebrate “Women’s Sunday”. There were 30 brass bands, bugles and 20 platforms with speakers wearing the purple, white and green colours of the votes for women campaigners. It was, for the most part, a good-humoured event, but it did not persuade the government to extend the franchise to women. Since peaceful protest had clearly failed, Christabel Pankhurst warned the prime minister, Herbert Asquith, “militant methods must once more be resorted to”. What we remember today of the suffragette movement is the image, captured on grainy film, of Emily Davison, the former governess and journalist, throwing herself under the king’s horse at the Epsom Derby on 4 June 1913, and dying four days later of a fractured skull. But as Diane Atkinson makes clear in her collective biography of the movement for women’s suffrage that took place between 1903 and 1914, this was merely the culmination of a decade of relentless confrontation, some of it extremely violent, drawing in not only the middle classes but factory workers, shop girls, teachers and housewives up and down the country, many of them prepared to go to prison again and again for acts that grew increasingly dangerous.
By 1903, seven countries, among them New Zealand and Australia, had accorded some degree of voting rights to women. In Britain, before 1832 some women had a parliamentary vote as property owners, but they were excluded in 1832 by the Reform Act, which extended the franchise to “male persons” over 21, including small landowners, tenant farmers and shopkeepers. The word “male” sparked unease: since the monarch was a woman, had the moment not come to let all women vote? A number of reformers joined forces, gathered signatures and petitioned parliament, but the “shrieking sisters” were briskly brushed aside.