9 Shocking Things You Didn’t Know About the Suffrage Movement

You know they battled for a woman’s right to vote, but did you know they also faced feeding tubes, macho critics, and police brutality?

9 Shocking Things You Didn't Know About the Suffragette Movement Suffragette Movie

Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, and Helena Bonham Carter wreaked havoc on the streets of London—and all in the name of women’s rights. The trio of marquis ladies starred in Suffragette, a historical drama about the females who fought for a woman’s right to vote, in 2015.

For the most part, director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan honor the history books. However, the two don’t waste an opportunity to create their own chapters. In fact, Mulligan’s character, Maud Watts, isn’t a real person; she’s a composite of several personalities culled from testimonies and diary entries found during their research for the film.

And that’s just one tidbit you may not have been privy to. Sure, everyone knows women eventually won the right to vote, but few know just how sordid the road to victory became. Suffragettes constantly bucked against police brutality, violent force feedings, and even imprisonment. 

As if that’s not enough, we’ve rounded up nine more things about the Suffragette movement that'll your brow—and remind you just how brave these badass ladies truly were.


1.) Writer Abi Morgan didn't set out to make a feminist film.

It’s a movie made by women, starring women playing women who fought for rights owed to women. But it’s not born out of feminism. Instead, Morgan credits the screenplay to curiosity. “This film was generally born out of curiosity of the storytelling and less about, ‘I want to do a feminist film.’ There is a sort of growing sense of social activism about human equality across the globe and how that reflects in every industry, not just the film industry. So for me, this film’s become part of the discourse. And if that’s useful, that’s great,” she said in a statement.

2.) The Parliament scenes were actually shot in Parliament.

But here’s why that’s fascinating: Not only has no film ever shot there before, but the place where women were barred from for centuries—the very epicenter of their battle—is now the set playing host to a predominantly female cast and crew working on a film about the very thing they weren’t allowed to do. Boo-yah.

3.) American women could run for office long before they could vote.

  • Suffragettes protesting outside the White House in 1917.

Montana’s Jeannette Rankin, the first congresswoman elected to the House of Representatives, served for a single term in 1917—three years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

4.) In 1918, British women won the right to vote. Or did they?

According to Parliament’s Representation of the People Act of 1918, men 21 and older had the right to vote. The rules for a woman, however, differ a bit. Women had to be 30 or older and meet a property qualification or be married to a man who did. Spoiler alert: It took about a decade for women to gain the same terms as men.

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5.) Suffragettes were "old maids."

Or so the macho critics waging a war on women would have you believe. Their anti-movement propaganda, which included comics, postcards, and other memorabilia, was downright nasty and illustrated feminists as unmarried, unworthy, and uncouth social reformers whose right to think for themselves was detrimental to society.

6.) Suffragettes endured injury, even force-feeding. 

  • Police arrest Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the Suffragette Movement.Photo Credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In an effort to draw attention to their cause, suffragettes would go on hunger strikes. And their starvation was met with physical force as authorities tied them down, pried their jaws open with sharp steel gags, and crammed down dirty feeding tubes down their throats. Fanny Parker, however, endured perhaps the worst of it, as she was force-fed via her vagina and rectum. Read more about the horrors in Emmeline Pankhurst's biography and Votes for Women.  

7.) The Pankhursts have a “Lost Sister.”

The first family of suffrage, the Pankhursts are synonymous with women’s rights to vote. But it’s possible there’s one you’ve missed. You know of the matriarch, Emmeline, who founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (Streep plays her in the film), as well as her activist daughters, Sylvia and Christabel. But what about Adela. Read all about her efforts to migrate the cause to Australia in Adela Pankurst: The Wayward Suffragette.

8.) The term “suffragette” was not a compliment.

As more militant action was sought and the movements splintered into various parties, the more commanding women, once called "suffragists," became known as "suffragettes."

9.) They knew jujitsu.

There was a team of about 30 kick-ass working women who acted as bodyguards for Emmeline Pankhurst and the movement’s other leaders. Their job: to protect fugitive suffragettes from re-arrest. And the woman who taught ‘em the karate chop: Miss Edith Garrud.

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Featured Images (top to bottom): Still from "Suffragette" (2015), via Focus Features, U.S. Embassy the Hague / Flickr (CC)  

Published on 23 Oct 2015