Sheffield FridayNightRide

we have nothing to lose but our chains

2016/03/11 The Women’s Movement

Ride report
Most of the info is on the map at the POI. However since doing this ride 6 years ago I have done some more reading and thinking. I wanted this ride to challenge the myths of the suffragettes and the struggle for the votes for women and broaden it to understanding that the struggle for universal equal suffrage of one person one vote has been a long struggle even during the 20th Century for both men and women of all classes, races and creeds.
On the ride 6 yrs ago I had stressed that the suffragettes and suffragists wanted votes for women but not necessarily:
* all women;
* indigeneous women in the colonies;
* within the same general manifesto, some women were left-wing and some were right-wing.

It would be wrong to think that all suffragettes were progressive or remained progressive. After WWI some joined Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Emmeline Pankhurst had started as a member of the Independent Labour Party but her last political act in the 1920s was to stand as a Tory Party candidate. The daughters all chose different paths. Christabel emigrated to the US and became an evangelist, Sylvia remained a socialist and was one of the founders of the Communist Party in England, and Adela emigrated to Australia, first taking part in trade union struggles then she became anti-communist and pro-Empire and as a committed pacifist publicly urged negotiation for peace with belligerent Japan, for which action she was interned for WWII.

The suffragettes and suffragists were a mix of all classes. Some women wanted the vote on the same basis as men. That is one would have to own or rent property at a certain value to be entitled to vote. The very old argument is that one should only be able to vote if one literally had a stake in the land. This was a serious point of contention in post Civil War England, the radicals and progressives lost the argument. In the 20th century this argument was opposed by socialists and many Liberals, and the women’s trade union and the cooperative movement. But up to WWI one could only vote if one was a man over 21 and had a stake in the land.

In the colonies and dominions the picture is also complicated. New Zealand seems to be the most enlightened with universal suffrage for all genders and races from the late 1890s. Dominions like Canada and Australia had race exclusions into the 1960s. The newly created Irish Free State had equal suffrage in 1923 with India next in its first election in 1950. Indigenous people in the colonies had no votes until their independence. (NB Emmeline Pankhurst was an imperialist; Sylvia was not!)

It is also wrong to think that all men had it all and all women had nothing in terms of accessing political power or determining who should have political power. Whilst women did not have a vote for MPs they were able to participate in local politics through things like Poor Law Boards, parish councils etc. Working-class women had started to unionise particularly in the North and had started agitating and petitioning, in large numbers, to be allowed to vote. Access to democracy is a complex mix of gender and class and race and religion.

Not all political parties wanted universal suffrage either. The Conservative Party in particular opposed Votes for Women before WWI. They feared that allowing women to vote would deny them power for ever. (As well as a patronising view of women’s capabilities to choose sensibly this is perverse as almost an admission that your policies lack attraction for women and the issues you believe they may want to vote on, eg child care, equal pay etc)

So what was going on in the UK before WW1? The last general election before the war was in 1910. At that time no women could vote for a MP. Men over 21 who either owned property or leased or rented property at particular rents for particular length of times (check it out on Wikipedia) were allowed to vote. This means that in the 1910 General Election there were approx 7.7M men entitled to vote (approx 60% or men over 21) and no women were entitled to vote.

The next election was 1918 and was the first General Election where all seats were voted on on the same day. The collective sacrifice of men from all classes in WWI and the begrudging acceptance that women ought to vote meant that the law had been changed. All men 21 and over, were allowed to vote with no property qualifications. Women over 30 who met the property qualifications, or were married to a man who was entitled to vote, were allowed to vote. So in the 1918 General Election there were approx 21.4M people allowed to vote (100% of all men 21 and over, approx 40% of women 21 and over).

Universal suffrage in the UK for all men and women over the age of 21 independent of any property qualification was introduced in 1928. The next General Election was 1929 and the total electorate was now 28.9M people and a 100% of men and women were entitled to vote.

BUT would that it’were so simple! Some people still had two votes. For example there were MPs for university constituencies, eg Oxbridge, London, and graduates of these universities could vote for the MP for their residential constituency and for the university MP. This plural voting was stopped in the late 1940s. In addition these new Acts in the late 1940s made the rules for voting identical in local as well as national elections. The first UK General Election in which the rule was one person, one vote was the 1950 General Election. (This is also the year I was born and makes me realise I am history!)

And the rules for voting and plural voting in Northern Ireland were never regularised as for the mainland. And this discrimination was a major cause of the Troubles that started in the late 60s and in the shadow of which we still live.

Sheffield had far more suffragists than suffragettes. And Sheffield had a vocal but small anti-women’s suffrage campaign. From 1907 up to 1913 there were acts of vandalism and violence orchestrated by suffragettes. All the other info is on the map. In Sheffield the first woman councillor was elected in 1919, the first woman mayor was in selected in 1936, the first woman leader of the council was elected in 1950, and the first woman MP was in 1974

Ps I have read up on this for my own benefit. Trust you find it useful and challenging It’s all on-line; you just have to do a lot of cross checking.

Sheffield FridayNightRide
Friday March 11 2016
The Women’s Movement in Sheffield
6.30 pm Start inside park Gates to Weston Park Museum, Western Bank for the 7 mile route
7.15 pm ride pick up at Cathedral Forecourt, Church St for the 4 mile route

“Bicycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance.” -Susan B. Anthony (1896) US Suffragist
Theme: This SFNR celebrates SheFest and International Women’s Day (Wednesday 8 March 2016) by cycling to locations in Sheffield associated with the struggle for women’s emancipation. The main focus is sites to do with the struggle for Votes for Women but it also goes past other relevant sites e.g. some of the first women’s clinics in Sheffield.
Maps: I have put the route and places of interest with some explanation of what happened or what was at the site on a Google map. Click on a point of interest and some text will come up telling you about it

If you want to know the ascents and descents and want to load the entire route up to a gadget then go here

Heads up! It is approx 7 miles at a leisurely pace with stops to talk and listen. It is all on roads or metalled trails or paths and should suit any bike.
Please bring LIGHTS, LOCK(S) and dress appropriately for the weather
It’s a short route so my suggestion is no mid-ride stops and post ride drinks in The Union in Nether Edge
Please be on time. In an emergency then PHONE Mick on the mobile number below.
Route. We head off to Crookesmoor to see the house where Adela Pankhurst stayed when organising the Suffragettes (WSPU) in Yorkshire and the North East then we spin into town via Crookesmoor Recreation ground to start a circuit around central downtown taking in sites of meetings, offices, speeches, riots and fire-bombings and general mayhem before we go to the hall where the PM of the time was heckled and had his meeting disrupted before we get to the house where the first meeting of the Suffragettes in Sheffield was held, and finish by viewing the modest house where the inaugural meeting of the Sheffield Suffragettes was held.
As most of the ride has Edwardian connections the wearing of cycling tweeds and bloomers or somesuch is encouraged or perhaps the colours purple, white & green – the colours of the suffragettes – or scarlet, white & green – the colours of the suffragists. There will be a SFNR badge (£1) to commemorate the ride, bringing the right money is v helpful.
In the 20 years before WWI the hottest domestic political issue was Votes for Women. Reasoned and reasonable arguments were felt to be ineffective and the campaign and dissent moved from petitions, rallies and meetings to also encompass disruption, rioting, vandalism and fire-bombings of post boxes. I think the epicentre for this movement in Yorkshire and NE Derbyshire was Sheffield where the youngest Pankhurst, Adela, organised the suffragette movement in the region, made Sheffield an epicentre for the struggle in Yorkshire, and led by personal example.

The invention and mass production of bicycles preceded the car by about 25 years. So for 25 years pedestrians, horses (and carts), and bicycles shared the roads. The bicycle was affordable for many and it allowed people to travel much further than they were used to on their own or in groups, and to places of their own choice that may well have been inaccessible before. Travelling ‘under one’s own steam’ became a leisure activity as well as a utilitarian activity.
The bike was liberating for men and especially women. Many (mainly male) critics warned of the health dangers of cycling for women (e.g. exercise that was too strenuous and fast for the gentler sex, the hazards of a machine that women would find difficult to control) which also reflected a concern about young men and women cycling off to places together where they could not be seen or supervised and all would be overexcited by the physical exercise and rubbing of the bike saddle – ooh, er, missus!
As side notes it is worth noting that the use of the bicycle (not the introduction of the car) led to the asphalting of roads and cycling caused some changes in fashion, e.g. bloomers were invented so women could cycle more freely and retain their modesty.
What the bike did do for both men and women was literally extend physical and geographical horizons and create the mind-set that anyone could travel individually and autonomously – and paradoxically that is an essential psychological and cultural mind-set for owning and using a car!
So on your bikes for this one!
“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle” Irina Dunn (1970), Australian educator, journalist and politician (men may dress in fish suits for this ride)

“We have nothing to lose but our chains!”
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