These leaflets were produced between 1912 and 1914 by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Led by Millicent Fawcett, the NUWSS used parliamentary procedure to try to achieve its aims, lobbying MPs through petitions, public meetings and letters, while influencing public opinion via local branch activities. Propaganda, often in the form of leaflets, played an important role in this.
Background to the NUWSS
Formed in 1897 when the many suffrage societies from around Britain combined, the NUWSS grew to become the largest organisation campaigning for women’s suffrage (see leaflet no. B101, the NUWSS ‘Tree’). By 1914 it had over 50,000 members.
The leaders of the NUWSS were middle-class women who conformed to the Victorian ideal of womanhood. Many were related to prominent Liberal politicians – even though they claimed to be ‘non-party’. As one historian has noted, they were not seeking to overthrow the political establishment but, as respectable middle-class women, were ‘asking to be let in’.
How did the NUWSS change its strategy?
Between 1906 and 1913 the NUWSS worked tirelessly on a highly organised and politically strategic campaign to get successive governments to introduce votes for women. But their belief that Parliament would ultimately bow to reason and grant their demands was to prove naïve, as successive suffrage bills failed to be passed into law.
The defeat of the third Conciliation Bill in March 1912, and the withdrawal of the subsequent Reform Bill in January 1913, prompted the NUWSS to have a radical change of strategy. Previously they lobbied for any measure that would give votes to women, using their contacts within Parliament. But now they aimed to put pro-suffrage MPs in Parliament in time for the next general election, due in 1915. They did this by focusing on the parliamentary constituencies and the public.
What do the leaflets reveal about the NUWSS?
The leaflets reveal how the NUWSS created propaganda on topics which the public could relate to. Most of the leaflets shown here were produced during the spring and summer of 1913, a time when the organisation produced a vast amount of publicity aimed at spreading their word to all corners of the United Kingdom.
By bombarding the public with suffragist propaganda they aimed to make women’s suffrage a popular cause and to reach out to working-class women – particularly in the Midlands and the North. By raising consciousness in this way, it would be harder for politicians to ignore women’s demands. Disillusioned with the Liberal Party, the NUWSS formed an alliance with the Labour Party in 1912, which further strengthened ties with the working class.
Another reason for the NUWSS’ sustained propaganda campaign was to distinguish themselves from the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) who, in February 1913, stepped up their campaign to destroy property, including smashing the orchid house at Kew.
The NUWSS were concerned that the militant tactics of the WSPU would undermine their cause. They sought to present themselves as the respectable face of the suffrage campaign – note the words ‘law-abiding’ at the top of the leaflets. In the leaflet What does Women’s Suffrage Mean (B 100), the writer states, ‘some people think that Women’s Suffrage means breaking windows and spoiling other people’s property… [but] thousands of quiet law-abiding women are asking for the vote’.
Women’s role and the NUWSS
The NUWSS were keen to reassure the public that they did not want to challenge women’s role as mothers and homemakers. In their aim to win over working-class women, they set out to persuade them that they needed the vote to protect their interests as wives, mothers and workers. This can be seen in the leaflets Votes for Mothers (B. 111), Women in the Home (B. 44) and Some Reasons Why Working Women Want the Vote (B. 23). Although this argument went against the suffragists’ liberal view that women were equal to men, it made the idea of suffrage more acceptable – and it therefore gained more support.
Moral reform was also of great interest to the NUWSS. One of the issues they campaigned on was so-called ‘White Slavery’, an Edwardian euphemism for forced prostitution and trafficking (which upholds the racist notion that society should be outraged by white women being enslaved, but consider the sexual subjugation of black women as normal; see the leaflet White Slave Traffic, B. 68). In Parliament and Moral Reform (B. 106), the spotlight is on the sexual abuse of young girls. Without the female vote, the suffragists argued, there was ‘no “voting power” behind the demand for these reforms’ (B. 106r).
 Leslie Parker Hume, The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies 1897-1914 (New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc., 1982), Preface.
 Parker Hume, p. 13.
 Parker Hume, p. 194.
What does this Tree Mean?
This Tree represents the great National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.
OBJECT - The object of the Union is to obtain the Parliamentary vote for women on the terms as it is or may be granted to men.
HISTORY - At the foot of the Tree is an Acorn marked 1867. That shows the date at which the First Suffrage Societies were started.
In 1867 Women's Suffrage Societies were formed in Manchester, London and Edinburgh, and among the women who helped in the work were Miss Lydia Becker, Miss Garrett (now Dr.Garrett Anderson) and Miss Emily Davies, LL.D. and among the signatures to the FIRST WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE PETITION presented to the House of Commons (1866) by JOHN STUART MILL were those of Florence Nightingale and Harriet Martineau.
CONSTIITUTION - Suffrage Societies went on growing and later (1897) were combined into the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies. In 1910 the Federations were formed, which are represented by the Branches of the Tree.
These Federations consist of groups of Societies which are represented by the Leaves of the Tree.
Every year sees rapid growth in the number of new Societies. There are now (July, 1913) 441, and the total membership is over 43,000.
The policy of the Union is settled at a General Council which meets twice a year. To this Council every Society send representatives in proportion to the number of its members. This Council elects the Officers and Executive Committee for the year, who direct the work of the Union.
The President of the Union has for many years been Mrs. Henry Fawcett, LL.D.
METHODS - The methods of the Union are constitutional.
The way to join the Union is to become a member of one of its Societies.
The name and address of the Society in any given neighbourhood, and further information about the N.U.W.S.S., can be obtained from the Central Offices of the Union by writing to
National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies
14 Gt. Smith St., Westminster, London, S.W.
Why Working Women Want the Vote
Because as long as women cannot vote for Members of Parliament they are not asked what they want, and they are treated like children who do not know what is good or what is bad for them.
Because only those who wear the shoe know where it pinches, and women know best what they want and what they don't want.
Because Members of Parliament must attend to the wants and wishes of those who have votes, and they have not time to attend to the wants and wishes of women who have not got votes.
Because laws are made which specially affect women's work and the work of their children.
Because if women are working as dressmakers, tailoresses, printers, confectioners, and laundresses, or in any factory or workshop, the laws under which they work are made for women without women being asked if these laws are good or bad for them.
Because if the laws under which women work are bad, women cannot have those laws changed unless they have the vote.
Because the vote has been given to women in some of our Colonies and has been of great use.
Because the way to help women is to give them the means of helping themselves.
Because the vote is the best and most direct way by which women can get their wishes and wants attended to.
Women in the Home
Women, we are told, should stay in their homes.
But they are not to be idle there! What ought they to be doing?
Looking after the children.
Seeing that they are properly fed.
Taking care of their health.
Cooking the husband's dinner.
Making the money go as far as it can.
All this is the “woman's job”.
How will the vote help them?
By giving them a share in making the laws that govern all these things.
Do you think the laws have nothing to do with women's homes and their children, and the price of food? Why, all these things are affected by laws! Look at
The Education Act.
The Poor-Law Acts.
The Insurance Act.
The Children's Charter.
These laws have to do with children, and with the trials of sickness and unemployment and poverty. In all these, the woman suffers first.
Then there is the question of Free Trade and Tariff Reform. That is a woman’s business, too, because she is the one who has to do the housekeeping. If the money doesn’t go as far as it used to, or if it comes in less plentifully, she will be the first to go short. A mother will always stint herself before her little ones.
But we are told we have the Municipal Vote, and we can do all we need with that, because it is by the Municipal Councils that the law is worked. But can we? Can we make a bad or a stupid law into a good one by using the Municipal Vote? Of course not!
You can do something by working a law as well as it can be worked; but if it is really unjust or stupid, your work will be mostly thrown away.
Women want to be consulted when the laws are made. And the way to give your opinion so that politicians will listen to it, is to vote.
Isn't it time the 'Women in the Home' voted on questions that concern the home, since she knows most about them?
Votes for Mothers
They tell you
'The Woman's Place is the Home'.
Well, if you had votes you might have better homes; and if you had better homes your children would have a better chance.
You have seen many a poor woman's baby as fine and healthy at birth as the child of any wealthy woman in the land. You have seen that baby gradually pine, grow thin, pale, fretful, and at last sicken and die, in spite of all its mothers love and care.
Why did that baby die?
Most likely it died because the house into which it was born was unhealthy, insanitary, overcrowded, and consequently full of poisonous germs.
To prove this go to Birmingham. There you will find that, in a poor and crowded part of the city, of every 1,000 babies born 331 die. But, only 4½ miles away, in the garden village of Bournville where the people have good and healthy houses, of every 1,000 babies born only 65 die. That means that of every five babies who die in the unhealthy houses only one would have died had it been born in a healthy home - four of the five dead babies need not have died at all. They were killed by conditions which ought not to exist - conditions which their mothers had no power to change.
That is why mothers want votes. For then they could send men to Parliament who would say: 'We have had enough of this wholesale slaughter of innocent babies. We will insist on healthy homes for the people, so that the babies may live and thrive'.
Mothers, it could be done. It will be done when you have power and use your power to send to Parliament, men who will talk less about women stopping at home and do more to see that women have decent homes to stop in. For the sake of the babies demand
Votes for Mothers.
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