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World War I & the WSPU

Two slogans have been handwritten on the reverse of each removable placard. These read 'what are you doing to help your country' as the front piece, and 'your king and your country need you' on the back.

In August 1914 the slogan 'Your King and Country Need You', was first published in newspapers, with the goal of encouraging 100,000 men to enlist.[1] By March 1915 nearly two million posters and twenty million recruitment leaflets reading this slogan had been published.[2] The slogan as displayed by the muffineer reflects both a popular public slogan and a broader social and political nationalist rhetoric.

Tactics were aimed specifically at women to encourage their men to enlist.[3] Social roles defining women as home-makers and carers within the private sphere were manipulated and redefined by the Government for its own political agenda. This further destabilised the private and public sphere dynamics the suffrage movement had previously contested. Women were encouraged to bring politics into the home, in doing this they are embodying the political themselves, ultimately rendering new constructions of nationalist and citizenship discourse in light of this female influence.

At the declaration of war in August 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst called a suspension on suffrage militancy and concurrently suffragettes were released unconditionally from prison.[4] Pankhurst said 'we are doing everything we can to help recruiting'.[5] In conjunction with the War Office recruiting campaign, leading suffragettes spoke at public meetings across England, urging support for the recruitment campaign.[6]

The display of the war slogans on the muffineer represents continuity with the direction of WSPU militancy. This indicates that the owner of the muffineer remained in agreement with the decisions of the WSPU, despite a reinterpretation of WSPU direction. The WSPU argued that 'the supreme reason why we have fought for the vote is that we might obtain the power to help in making Britain civilisation an even finer contribution to the civilisation of the world'.[7]

WSPU members believed that individual desires must be sacrificed for the benefit of the nation.[8] However, support for the war caused a split among suffragettes; many believed women should be promoting peace, not ratifying masculinised violence (violence against other person, rather than the property-damaging violence of the suffragettes). The extent to which the members of the WSPU willingly followed Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in their reinterpretation of suffragette politics is difficult to chart amongst file members as there are no membership records and few financial reports.[9] However, the WSPU did lose members during the war years. Christabel Pankhurst argued that suffrage organisations that accused the WSPU of failing the cause did not appreciate the link between a reinterpretation of citizenship and responsibility to the nation.[10] The war presented an opportunity for women to promote themselves as the life of the British nation which they actively worked to strengthen and protect.[11] The question 'What are you doing for your king and your country' can be interpreted not just as a call for men to enlist for war service but as a call to both pacifist suffragists and dissenting suffragettes: by supporting the recruitment campaign, women were not acquiescing to a male cultural ideology nor undermining 'votes for women'. Rather, the movement reflected regeneration in national citizenship where women had a firm place in creating change.[12] Women were called on to work temporarily around the issue of disenfranchisement for the benefit of the nation, as this correlation between national service and political activity ultimately would benefit the suffrage cause.

Female war work did not necessarily denote support for the recruitment campaign. Women also began working industrial jobs. In doing so they challenged industrial as well as familial patriarchy by going out to work.[13] The WSPU supported these women who were working for their country, as this move allowed men to resign in order to enlist.[14] The Government encouraged female labour to aid the war effort.[15] By the end of the First World War, one and a half million more women were working than in 1914.[16] The 1919 Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act ended much of this employment.[17] However, the challenge posed to gender stereotypes by female war work forged new class links between men and women, and heightened women's political profile.[18] The muffineer not only reflects but promotes this move by women. The muffineer would have sat on a dining table, or else was located with the home, the traditionally female sphere. The slogans thus encourage both men and women to be active in support of 'your king and your country'. The phrasing of this means such involvement requires engagement with a political and nationalist discourse, which the muffineer embodies by encouraging such engagement. These themes affirm the meaning of the suffrage movement as a social and political revolution concerning women's role in society, and not just as a single issue campaign.

Whether women's demands were instrumental in shaping enfranchisement legislation emerging during the war is debatable. In January 1917 the Parliament was amending franchise laws and recommendations were made for a form of limited female enfranchisement. Though a deputation of women's organisations was accepted by the Parliament prior to the law being passed, women were not the focus of the formulation of the law. The primary concern of the parliament was for the soldiers who had fought overseas. Enfranchisement had previously been based on property and residency requirements, which disenfranchised the soldiers who were fighting overseas and thus, could not fulfil these requirements.[19] The resulting reforms streamlined the enfranchisement categories of the Reform Act 1884. The result was the Representation of the People Act 1918. This granted the vote to women over thirty who already possessed the local government vote, or were married to men who did. Two million men and six million women were enfranchised as a result.[20] Later that year, the Qualification of Women Act 1918 was passed 274 votes to twenty-five. This legislation made women eligible for nomination and election to Parliament.[21] The 1918 general election was contested by 1,623 candidates, including seventeen women.[22] It was in 1928 that Stanley Baldwin's conservative government addressed the age discrimination and gave women the vote on the same basis as men, finally achieving political gender equality.[23]

References
[1] Peter Simkins, Kitchener's Army: The Raising of the New Armies, 1914-16, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), 39.
[2] Simkins, Kitchener's Army, 122.
[3] Simkins, Kitchener's Army, 123.
[4] Pankhurst, 'forward', My Own Story, no page number.
[5] Emmeline Pankhurst said this to Edith Shackleton of the Daily Sketch. Mayhall, The Militant Suffrage Movement, 121-2.
[6] The Suffragette, 7 May 1915, vol. I, no. 100, 63.
[7] The Suffragette 16 April 1915, vol. IV, no. 97, 3.
[8] Jacqueline De Vries, 'Gendering Patriotism: Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and World War One' in This Working-Day World: Women's Lives and Culture(s) in Britain 1914-1945, ed. Sybil Oldfield, (London: Taylor and Francis, 1994), 80.
[9] De Vries, 'Gendering Patriotism: Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and World War One', 79.
[10] Christabel Pankhurst, ?Keeping the Flag Flying? The Suffragette, 21 May 1915, vol. IV, no. 103, 86.
[11] De Vries, 'Gendering Patriotism: Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and World War One', 79.
[12] De Vries, 'Gendering Patriotism: Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst and World War One', 77.
[13] Christine Collette, 'Women and Politics, 1900-1939' in A Companion to Early Twentieth-Century Britain, ed. Chris Wrigley (Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 2003), 122.
[14] The Suffragette, 16 April 1915, No. 97, Vol. IV, 12.
[15] The Suffragette, 16 April 1915, No. 97, Vol. IV, 14.
[16] Diana Souhami, A Woman's Place, 29.
[17] Collette, 'Women and Politics, 1900-1939', 122.
[18] Collette, 'Women and Politics, 1900-1939', 122.
[19] Mayhall, The Militant Suffrage Movement, 134.
[20] Mayhall, The Militant Suffrage Movement, 134.
[21] Collette, 'Women and Politics, 1900-1939', 124.
[22] Collette, 'Women and Politics, 1900-1939', 124.
[23] Souhami, A Woman's Place, 31.

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