Women’s Suffrage in Surrey before the Great War

The movement for women’s suffrage (the right to vote) began in 1872, with agitation reaching a peak in the years immediately before the outbreak of war, due largely to the foundation of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1906.

Several women’s suffrage societies existed in Surrey – in Godalming, Guildford, Woking, Farnham, Camberley, Kingston, Reigate and Redhill.

In 1912, after the failure of the third Conciliation Bill to extend the right to vote to women, the WSPU heightened their campaign to include arson and bombing. In 1913 suffragettes set fire to the vacant property of Lady White in Englefield Green, detonated a small explosion at Oxted station, and bombed the house being built for the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd-George in Walton on the Hill. The same year also saw the death of Emily Wilding Davison after attempting to grab the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby.

Dame Ethel Smyth, the Woking-based composer, served three weeks in Holloway Prison for activism. In early 1914 she was promoting her operas in Germany and Austria before meeting Emmeline Pankhurst in France. Both returned to England when war was declared. Ethel then travelled to Paris to train as a radiographer and was attached to the XIIIth Division of the French army hospital at Vichy.

Not all those in favour of women’s suffrage were militant. Surrey was home to notable suffragists who believed in achieving change through Parliamentary means, including Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, Thomas Lord Farrer of Abinger, and Wilhelmina Bodie-Hall, vice president of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage.

The WSPU ceased militancy on the outbreak of war, devoting themselves to an Allied victory and charity work.

On 14 December 1918 women of 30 or over, who were householders or the wives of householders, property owners, or graduates, voted in the general election for the first time.

Click here to download a pdf copy of the front cover of Ethel Smyth’s composition The March of the Women, 1911 SHC REF: 9180/5.

Read more about Surrey Suffragettes and the pro and anti Suffrage movements on the Exploring Surrey’s Past website.

Read more from the Last Summer Display:

The Last Summer: Surrey on the Eve of the Great War

Family Life in 1914

In the News on the Eve of War

Surrey’s Landscape in 1914

Surrey Industry in 1914

School Life in Surrey in 1914

Sport and Leisure in Surrey in 1914

The Outbreak of War

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