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?

suffrage movement
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  • Photo Credit: Britannica

Now, it seems unfathomable that women would not have the right to vote, would not have the right to use their voice and actions to make a difference in politics. But before 1918, this inalienable right was mainly extended solely to men.

The Suffragette movement has seen many different lives and battles depending on where around the world the right to vote was being fought for. In the US, the suffragist movement was rooted in the abolishment of slavery. So much has continued to go unnoticed and unknown about the brave women who risked life, limb, and livelihood to fight for themselves and others' rights, no matter how much progress has been made.

Suffragettes constantly bucked against police brutality, violent force-feedings, and even imprisonment. And even then, that never stopped them. 

We’ve rounded up nine things about the Suffragette movement that'll raise your brow—and remind you just how brave these badass ladies truly were.

Related: 11 Books for Women Looking to Take 2020 by Storm 

1) The total number of suffragettes is unknown.

There's no hard and true number of suffragettes who fought in any capacity for the right to vote. Many women flitted in and out of the fight, contributing to what they could, when they could. Personal obligations, internal disagreements, and even dedication to other causes led to many women having to choose what they could afford to be a part of. Privacy concerns, too, led to inaccuracies in suffragist numbers as women adopted fake names to protect themselves from any potential harm.

The number of women who went to prison is around 1,000, and more than 300,000 women joined in the Women's Sunday Procession protest in 1908. It is likely that real membership in the cause was somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 women, a massive discrepancy we will never be able to solve.

2) Many women refused to complete the 1911 census.

One of the quietest, yet most effective means of protest is to simply do nothing at all. And that's what many suffragettes did in 1911. The Women's Freedom League encouraged women to refused to fill out and submit their census forms, or to submit them with errors and marrings that made them un-countable. 

Women covered their papers in slogans such as "No persons here, only women!" or listing their occupation as suffragette. After all, if they won't count their ballots, why count their heads?

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

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  • 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.

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. 

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  • 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.

Featured Images (top to bottom): Britannica, U.S. Embassy the Hague