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The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), also known as the Suffragists (not to be confused with the suffragettes) was an organisation of women's suffrage societies in the United Kingdom.


Formation and campaigning

The group was founded in 1897 by the merger of the National Central Society for Women's Suffrage and the Central Committee, National Society for Women's Suffrage, the groups having originally split in 1888.

The groups united under the leadership of Lydia Becker, although when she died 1890, Millicent Fawcett, who was the president of the society for over twenty years, took over. The organisation was democratic, aiming to achieve women's suffrage through peaceful and legal means, in particular by introducing Parliamentary Bills and holding meetings to explain and promote their aims.

In 1903, NUWSS suffered the split of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU, the "suffragettes"), who wished to undertake more militant action. Nevertheless, the group continued to grow, and by 1914 there were in excess of 400 branches throughout the country, with over 100,000 members. Many, but by no means all, of the members were middle class, with some working class members. Unlike the WSPU, their group also had some male members.

For the 1906 UK general election, the group formed committees in each constituency to persuade local parties to select pro-suffrage candidates.

The NUWSS organized the Mud March of February 7, 1907, its first large, open-air procession.

Ms.Fawcett said in a speech in 1911 that their movement was "like a glacier, slow moving but unstoppable".

Political Bias

Before 1912 the NUWSS were not officially allied with any party however, the Conciliation Bill of 1911 had an effect because although it had a majority the Liberal government did not give it enough time in parliament for further debate. (This was because the speaker Sir James Lowther opposed votes for women.) Consequently, it did not become law.

Labour from 1903 was tied into an alliance with the Liberals and its leadership was divided on the issue of female emancipation. Although, the 1913 Party Conference agreed to oppose any franchise bill that didn’t include extension of the franchise for women as well. This is because of a northwest campaign that effectively changed opinion. This party consistently supported women suffrage in the years before the war.

Also, Fawcett was becoming infuriated with the Liberals (although she was Liberal herself) delaying tactics and her response was to help Labour candidates against Liberals ones at election time. In 1912 the NUWSS established the Elections Fighting Fund Committee (EFF) that was headed by Catherine Marshall. This backed Labour and in 1913-14 the EFF intervened in four by-elections and although Labour won none, the Liberals lost two.

The NUWSS allying itself with Labour put pressure on the Liberals, because the Liberals' political future depended on Labour staying weak.

NUWSS during World War I

The NUWSS were split between the majority that supported war and the minority who were opposed. During the war the group set up an employment register so that the jobs of those who were serving could be filled. The NUWSS also financed women's hospital units, these employed only female doctors and nurses. Such groups served during World War I in France.

They agreed to the women's suffrage bill agreed by a speakers conference although it did not grant equal suffrage which is what the organisation campaigned for.

See also

Further reading

  • Hume, Leslie Parker. The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, 1897-1914. Modern British History, 3. New York: Garland, 1982. ISBN 9780824051679.

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