The WSPU was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903. Pankhurst had been a member of the NUWSS but became disillusioned with its constitutional tactics. One of the first aims of the WSPU was to recruit more working class women. However, when media interest in the campaign lessened, the Union began to use different methods to obtain publicity.
These increasingly militant methods began with suffragettes interrupting political speeches and meetings. Emmeline Pankhurst's daughter Christabel and Annie Kenney, another prominent member of the movement, assaulted a policeman as he tried to remove them from one meeting. Found guilty, they both refused to pay a fine of five shillings. They were eventually sent to prison, an outcome that shocked the nation. By 1908, the tactic of breaking the windows of government buildings had also been introduced. On the 30th June, a march on Downing Street resulted in 27 women being sent to prison. In 1913, both public and private buildings were also targeted and by 1914, over 1000 women had been imprisoned for damaging property.
In 1909, an imprisoned suffragette called Marion Dunlop initiated one of the suffragettes' most famous tactics - hunger striking. When her hunger strike secured her release, it was adopted by other imprisoned campaigners. The prison authorities began to force feed hunger strikers, unwilling to release so many before their sentences were completed.
When war was declared on Germany in August 1914, the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. It was agreed that the WSPU would end their militant activities and help with the war effort in return. The NUWSS also suspended all political activity during the war.
This list of the campaign materials - from badges to pamphlets - sold by the WSPU appeared on the inside cover of every pamphlet, leaflet and book they published. The sale of such materials both raised funds for the movement and helped to spread the suffragette message. This particular example was taken from a copy of Israel Zangwill's One and One are Two, a speech made in 1907.
- Look at the different methods the suffragettes used to convey their campaign message and list as many as you can. What other ways do you think they used?
- What methods of publicity could be used today? Do you think the suffragettes' methods would be as effective now as they were then?