Votes for Women 2018: Part III – The suffragists and anti-suffragists

Wednesday 7 February 2018

Yesterday, we looked at Dame Millicent Fawcett who was the president of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) from 1897. After the failure of the 1866 petition to parliament, women’s suffrage societies formed all over Britain. Seventeen of these groups were brought together under the leadership of the NUWSS in 1897.

The NUWSS adopted a peaceful approach and favoured debate and education over confrontation. An article in the St Andrews Citizen (16 August 1913), reporting on a meeting Fawcett and the NUWSS had with Prime Minister Herbert Asquith at Downing Street, refers to their ‘ordered and dignified behaviour’ in contrast to the characteristics of the more militant groups, which we will look at in tomorrow’s post.

St Andrews Citizen, 16 August 1913 (rper AN4.S2C5)

There were a number of suffrage societies in Fife. A letter (19 September [1910]) from Elsie Maud Inglis, secretary to the Scottish Federation of Women’s Suffrage Societies, to Mrs Anstruther, President of the Women’s Suffrage Society of St Andrews refers to five societies in Fife, in St Andrews, Cupar, Tayside, Kirkcaldy and Leven. The author was an eminent medical doctor who came to prominence through her founding of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in France and Russia. Her dedication to her cause lead to one biographer saying that she “made Florence Nightingale look like a part-time care assistant”.

Letter from Elsie Maud Inglis to Mrs Anstruther, c.1910. (msJN985.S3I6 (ms1020))
Left: letter Mabel Crockenden, Honorary Secretary, National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies to Miss Dobson, 1 May 1913, referring to a July march and demonstration (UYUY37781/F/4/7). Right: letter from Florence Hilliard to Miss Dobson, 6 June 1913 (YUY37781/F/4/10)

In 1913 St Andrews was the host of a Suffrage Summer School. Within the records of the wardens of University Hall, correspondence with Warden Miss Mildred Dobson reveals the organisation of the necessary arrangements for the school. (UYUY37781/F/4). The University Court minutes record that the University prohibited public lectures of a political nature and so many of the lectures took place in the Town Hall, as we can see in the advert which appeared in the St Andrews Citizen.

Advertisement for Suffrage Societies Summer School in the St Andrews Citizen, 9 August 1913 (rper AN4.S2C5)
Advertisement for Suffrage Societies Summer School in the St Andrews Citizen, 9 August 1913 (rper AN4.S2C5)

Mrs Henry (Millicent) Fawcett was to give the first public address of the school on the subject of the International Women’s Movement. Other speakers included Miss Lumsden, first Warden of University Hall ‘who received a great ovation in London last month when speaking at the open-air Suffrage demonstration in Hyde Park’, Miss Haldane and Chrystal Macmillian, one of the Edinburgh graduates who brought a case to the Court of Session for inclusion in the 1906 election.

The content of the lectures at the Summer School were well documented in the St Andrews Citizen (23 August 1913), particularly for the lecture given by Louisa Lumsden:

The University Court minutes (UYUY505) reveal plans to have a further summer school in August 1914. This was not to be however as plans were cancelled due to the outbreak of war in 1914.


Those opposed to votes for women were not just male. The National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage and the Anti-Suffrage Societies had both men and women as members. One such member of the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage was Miss Mabel Smith who spoke in front of some of the suffragist societies in Fife:

Miss Mabel Smith speaking in Cupar, St Andrews Citizen 31 May 1913 (rper AN4.S2C5)

“I agree entirely that women are every bit was intelligent as men, but women, as a rule, take an interest in things that are much more interesting than politics.”

Miss Mabel Smith speaking in Leven, St Andrews Citizen, 7 June 1913 (rper AN4.S2C5)


In 1903 the Women’s and Social Political Union (WSPU) was formed by Emmeline Pankhurst. The Union is better known by the term given to them by the Daily Mail in 1906 – ‘The Suffragettes’. Tomorrow we will take a look at the activities of the suffragette movement in Fife.

Sarah Rodriguez
Principal Archives Assistant

Information taken from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, where entries are available.

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1 thoughts on "Votes for Women 2018: Part III – The suffragists and anti-suffragists"

  • Dr Elsie Maud Inglis (1864-1917) and Scottish Women’s Hospitals | Echoes from the Vault
    Friday 16 August 2019, 10.32am

    […] already highlighted on the blog, Elise Maud Inglis was involved in the women’s suffrage movement. She was honorary secretary of […]


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