Were the Suffragettes taken seriously? (Teacher)
This group of 5 cartoons has been chosen with two purposes in mind. One is to provide students with an opportunity to work with cartoon sources from the time of the Suffragettes and provide guidance on how they might interrogate and interpret these sources. The second purpose is to address a wider question, using the sources as a body of evidence alongside other knowledge and sources which students may have accumulated and in the process build up students' understanding of the very nature of the work of the historian.
The key question is whether or not the Suffragettes were taken seriously. At face value, this collection suggests that they were not taken seriously. However, we cannot definitively answer this question using only these five sources:
- They represent the view of one cartoonist
- The message of each cartoon is clear, but as historical sources they can be interpreted in different ways.
The suggested way to use this collection is to divide the class into five groups and ask each group to analyse one or perhaps two cartoons. They should then report back to the rest of their class on their cartoon(s). Hopefully this will generate discussion, particularly if other groups do not follow or agree with a group's interpretation. The questions which accompany each cartoon are designed to guide discussion, not to be answered as written tasks. In this teacher version of the group the annotations provide a guide to the cartoons and the context in which they were created.
After the students have reported back on their cartoon, encourage other groups to ask questions or even question the group’s analysis. Once the groups have all reported, encourage the class to formulate their own ideas about what this collection tells them as historians. Try to give the students space to formulate their own ideas and then construct their case and support it using the cartoons. Hopefully this should generate debate on the issue of whether the Suffragettes were taken seriously. However, if they are faltering, you could introduce one or two of the following propositions for them to consider and debate:
- The sources prove that the Suffragettes were not taken seriously.
- The cartoons prove that opponents of women’s suffrage were worried that the Suffragettes were succeeding in gaining support for women’s suffrage. Otherwise why would they bother to try and ridicule them?
- The cartoons are useful sources about attitudes to women generally as well as attitudes towards the Suffragettes.
- The cartoons prove that the actions of the Suffragettes gained attention and kept the issue of votes for women in the public eye.
An overview of all records in the group with annotations (where entered).
Showing records 1 to 5 of 5.
The message of this cartoon is fairly clear, in that the cartoonist clearly feels that militant action will almost guarantee that women will not be given the vote. Women are show, generally in a slightly comic fashion, committing a series of offences. It is interesting to note that most of the offences are relatively trivial and are portrayed as comical. It is almost as though the Suffragettes are naughty children. The cartoon should be seen in the context of the ongoing Suffragette campaigns which really began in a big way with militant action in 1908.
It is interesting to compare this cartoon with the one from July 1909, several months earlier. The basic message is the same, which is that militancy either is ineffective or actually hinders the chances of women's suffrage (or both). What is particularly noteworthy is the way in which the scale and seriousness of the actions of the suffragettes is much greater. Is the cartoonist simply commenting on the fact that the militant action is more direct or is he in fact delivering a back handed compliment to the Suffragettes in the sense that he is acknowledging that they are gaining much publicity? Is it also evidence that the publicity they generated was negative, or is that just the view of this cartoonist?
A favoured tactic of the Suffragettes was to attack government ministers. Some of the attacks were really quite vicious, including lashing with whips and acid. The Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, came in for particular abuse. Not surprisingly, security around these ministers was stepped up and in one or two cases Suffragettes used disguises to get closer to their target. Once again the cartoonist decided to use this to comic effect, but is this evidence again that the Suffragettes were regularly in the public eye? Is it also evidence that the publicity they generated was negative, or is that just the view of this cartoonist?
Here the action moves forward from 1909 to 1912 and we see the new Suffragette tactic of hinger strikes being referred to. The cartoonist appears to see this as just another bit of female foolishness, and illustrates this with other strikes which women might take up. It is a valuable insight into attitudes towards women. The issue of the Suffragettes gives us a tricky puzzle. Does the fact that they appear briefly in one panel of the cartoon indicate they are insignificant? Or is this a deliberate ploy to distract from the very significant attention and sympathy which the hunger strikes did generate?
In 1914 the Suffragette Mary Richardson slashed a painting in the National Gallery, partly in protest at the arrest of the Suffragette leader emmeline Pankhurst. The cartoon is commenting, in an exaggerated way, on the measures which would have to be taken to ensure that this type of event could not happen again. The visitors to the gallery are gradually subjected to further and further restrictions. In a way there is a strange parallel with the present day debate about balacing freedoms against the need for security against terrorism.
A further point of interest is the fact that the scale of Suffragette militancy appears to have increased again from the level suggested by the cartoons from 1912.