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 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.
- Letters and Papers of Elizabeth C. Wolstenholme Elmy, Secretory of The Women’s Franchise League and the Women’s Emancipation Union.
- Archive collection of Ethel Smyth, suffragette and composer of the suffragette anthem.
- Papers of The Jubilee Appeal, an appeal from British women for ‘the equality of Civil Rights’, presented to Queen Victoria on her golden Jubilee in 1897.
- Correspondence and prison poetry of activist and suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst.
- The prison notebook of suffragette Olive Wharry.
- Records of the surveillance of suffragette Princess Sophia Duleep Singh.
- Archive of women’s suffrage campaigner and theatre director Edith Craig, held on loan from the National Trust.
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.
- The Women’s Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide, 1866-1928, by Elizabeth Crawford. (London: UCL Press, 1999).
- The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland, by Elizabeth Crawford. (London: Routledge, 2006).