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Although they seemed less active than the W.S.P.U., the N.U.W.S.S.
were active in trying to convert public opinion. Unlike the
Suffragettes, Suffragists welcomed male members in an effort to
convince more men to their point of view. They had several methods
that they used to persuade the harsh public opinion.
peaceful, e.g. reasoned argument, meetings, issuing leaflets and
Met with politicians to argue their case.
In elections they supported candidates who were in favour of female
They trained women to speak at public meetings.
In 1866 a group of women from the Kensington Society organised a
petition that demanded that women should have the same political
rights as men. The women took their petition to Henry Fawcett and John
Stuart Mill, two MPs who supported universal suffrage. Mill added an
amendment to the Reform Act that would give women the same political
rights as men. The amendment was defeated by 196 votes to 73.
Members of the Kensington Society were very disappointed when they
heard the news and they decided to form the London Society for Women's
Suffrage. The following year, Millicent Fawcett joined the group.
Although only a moderate public speaker, Millicent was a superb
organizer and soon became the leader of the London suffragists.
Similar Women's Suffrage groups were formed all over Britain. One of
the most important of these was in Manchester, where Lydia Becker
emerged as a significant figure in the movement.
In 1887 seventeen of these individual groups joined together to form
the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Lydia Becker
was elected as president. Three years later, when Becker died,
Millicent Fawcett became the new leader of the organisation.
The NUWSS held public meetings, organised petitions, wrote letters to
politicians, published newspapers and distributed free literature.
Millicent Fawcett believed that it was important that the NUWSS
campaigned for a wide variety of causes. This included helping
Josephine Butler in her campaign against the white slave traffic.
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NUWSS also gave support to Clementina Black and her attempts to
persuade the government to help protect low paid women workers.
In 1903 a group of former members of the NUWSS in Manchester left to
form a new organisation, the Women's Social and Political Union. Led
by Emmeline Pankhurst, this new organisation pointed out that it was
no longer willing to restrict itself to the constitutional methods
favoured by the NUWSS.
Millicent Fawcett, like other members of the NUWSS, feared that the
militant actions of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU)
would alienate potential supporters of women's suffrage. However,
Fawcett and other leaders of the NUWSS admired the courage of the
suffragettes and at first were unwilling to criticize members of the
The Liberal Party won the 1905 General Election. The NUWSS believed
that women would now be granted equal rights with men. However, this
did not happen and although Millicent Fawcett had always been a
Liberal, she became increasing angry at the party's unwillingness to
give full support to women's suffrage. Herbert Asquith became Prime
Minister in 1908. Unlike other leading members of the Liberal Party,
Asquith was a strong opponent of votes for women. In 1912 Fawcett and
the NUWSS took the decision to support Labour Party candidates in
Even at its peak in 1914, the WSPU only had about 2,000 members. The
NUWSS was a much larger organisation and in 1914 had 500 local
branches and over 100,000 members.
Two days after the British government declared war on Germany on 4th
August 1914, Millicent Fawcett declared that it was suspending all
political activity until the conflict was over. Although the NUWSS
supported the war effort, it did not follow the WSPU strategy of
becoming involved in persuading young men to join the armed forces.
On the resignation of Millicent Fawcett in 1919, Rathbone became
president of the NUWSS. Later that year she persuaded the organization
to accept a six point reform programme. (1) Equal pay for equal work,
involving an open field for women in industry and the professions. (2)
An equal standard of sex morals as between men and women, involving a
reform of the existing divorce law which condoned adultery by the
husband, as well as reform of the laws dealing with solicitation and
prostitution. (3) The introduction of legislation to provide pensions
for civilian widows with dependent children. (4) The equalization of
the franchise and the return to Parliament of women candidates pledged
to the equality programme. (5) The legal recognition of mothers as
equal guardians with fathers of their children. (6) The opening of the
legal profession and the magistracy to women.