Thursday, September 11, 2003

Suffragists vs. Suffragettes

In a recent entry from Ampersand, there's been a bit of debate over whether the term should be suffragist or suffragette.

As I stated in the comments section:
Actually, there is no right or wrong way to use the term -- or rather, the preferred term would depend on who you were talking to.

The term Suffragette was coined by the London newspaper, the Daily News in 1906 -- scathingly they referred to the women as not real suffragists. By adding the "ette" diminuitive, it tried to ridicule the women as something small, almost like an imitation of the real thing such as one would compare a kitchenette to a real kitchen.

After that, many British suffragists, and a few American ones, adopted the term as a way to differentiate themselves from the staid constitutionalists who sought political equality through negotiation and lobbying. Most American suffragists, however, continued to use the term suffragist, choosing to not reclaim the insulting term.

At some point, suffragist came to mean someone who was fighting for the vote for women in a "peaceful" way, while the radicals (or militants), who would break windows, set fires, and go to jail were known as suffragettes.
After writing that, I did a little search, and I ran across an interesting website -- Britain 1906 - 1918 Contrast, Contradiction, and Change. As you have probably already figured out, even before clicking on the link, it's all about movements in England. Nonetheless, there are certainly enough similarities between the British Women's Suffrage movement and the American Women's Suffrage Movement to get an idea of what was going on. There are some great documents included on this site -- cartoons, photographs, correspondance, and articles. On the particular topic of Suffragists vs. Suffragettes, you can see, perhaps more clearly, the lines drawn between them.


Anonymous said...

Thanks; this info helped me in my research paper on the Three waves of feminism (I'm on my first wave section now). Thank you!

Anonymous said...

wow, i never knew that! thank you, you have helped me with my history assessment!

Unknown said...

thank you very much! I was writting about the early feminism seen in the chartist movement and this article was perfect for me!

Unknown said...

In Britain,

The NUWSS (National union of women's suffrage societies) was the Suffragist movement.
this was a completely peaceful campaign, which although slow, it did not give them the title of 'terrorist'.

This is what the suffragettes ended up being called. They were a branch that broke off from the suffragists led by Emmline Pankhurst, famous for chaining herself to railings. This new branch was the WSPU (women's social and political union).
The suffragettes and suffragists got along very well at first - but the suffragettes got increasingly violent when they did not get the vote quickly enough.
This caused the groups to drift apart as the suffragists did not want the suffragettes 'rough' image to be imposed on them.

The suffragettes burned buildings, threw bricks, smashed windows, stalked politicians, hunger striked in prison and one lady even killed herself by running out in front of one of the kings race horses.
all for the vote.

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