Lives of the Suffragettes

Susan Pedersen at the LRB:

The wars and revolutions that took place a century ago were so vastly consequential for peoples and nations that historians have had to deal with centenaries queued up like planes coming into Heathrow: 1914, the Easter Rising, the Battle of the Somme, the Balfour Declaration, the Bolshevik Revolution, not to mention the Armistice, the Treaty of Versailles and the Spanish flu epidemic still circling overhead. Museum exhibitions, conferences and popular histories have exposed a more or less interested public to the slaughter-bench that birthed the 20th century.

Amid this catalogue of gore and suffering, one centenary lends itself to celebration. It’s true that the 1918 Representation of the People Act, through which some women in the UK gained the parliamentary vote, is a pretty ambiguous feminist landmark. Introduced to amend residency requirements so that soldiers could vote, the Act was the work of an all-male cross-party conference of 32 MPs that turned to women’s suffrage only in the last stages of its deliberations. With straw polls showing a strong majority favouring some concession to women but a narrow majority opposed to full equality, the conference cast about for grounds on which to include some women and exclude others.

more here.