Women's Suffrage: Archives and Manuscripts

Handwritten letter to Lord Crewe, reporting on the suffragette activities of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh
IOR/L/PS/11/52 Letter to Lord Crewe about the suffragette activities of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, 1913.

The Library holds a range of archives and manuscripts relating to the campaign for women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom in the 19th and 20th centuries.

About the collection

Before the Representation of the People Act of 1918, the women of the United Kingdom were not entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections. The women’s suffrage movement campaigned for women’s right to vote, to gain a voice in the democratic process. The archives and manuscripts collections contain the papers and correspondence of prominent suffragists and suffragettes, dating from the establishment of women’s suffrage groups in the 1860s through to the realisation of equal suffrage with the Representation of People (Equal Franchise) Act of 1928.

As well as the personal archives of activists such as Sylvia Pankhurst, Charlotte Shaw and Elizabeth C. Wolstenholme Elmy, there is a wide range of correspondence from suffrage campaigners within other named collections. These include:

The Gladstone Papers, containing correspondence from Josephine Butler, Dorothea Beale, Charlotte Despard, Millicent Fawcett, Anne Cobden-Sanderson, Emmeline How-Martyn and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence.

The Stopes Papers, containing correspondence from Hertha Ayrton, Margaret Ashton, Chrystal Macmillan, Beatrice Sanders, Agnes Maude Royden, Ray Strachey and Ethel Snowden.

The papers of Henry Devenish Harben, MP and campaigner for women’s suffrage, containing correspondence from Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, Rachel Barrett, Annie Kenney, Catherine Marshall, Geraldine Lennox and Grace Roe. 

Collection highlights:

What is available online?

Explore Archives and Manuscripts contains catalogue entries for women’s suffrage related archives and manuscripts. 

An introduction to a selection of historical sources exploring the campaign for women’s suffrage is available on the British Library’s online exhibition page, Votes for Women.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Most archives and manuscripts relating to women’s suffrage can be consulted in the Manuscripts Reading Room. The papers of Princess Sophia Duleep Singh can be consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Please contact the Manuscripts Reference Team for information about accessing restricted items.

What is available in other organisations?

  • The National Archives holds Cabinet papers, Home Office papers and Parliamentary Hansard records relating to the campaign for women’s suffrage.
  • LSE holds an extensive women’s suffrage collection in the Women’s Library.
  • The University of Manchester holds archives of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the International Woman Suffrage Alliance amongst its extensive women’s suffrage collection.
  • The International Institute for Social History holds the archive of Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst and the East London Federation of Suffragettes.  

Further information