In this section you will find information on the following:
- Some of the ways that opposition to the women’s suffrage campaign was expressed during the nineteenth century
- Why a more formal and organised anti-suffrage campaign was begun in the early twentieth century, the political background to this move, and who was involved with this initiative
- What beliefs motivated some women to oppose suffrage, and what arguments were made by anti-suffrage campaigners
- Information about the Scottish branches of the anti-suffrage campaign and their activities
On the right is one of the many badges designed for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) – founded in 1896 this brought numerous suffrage groups spread across the UK into affiliation. NUWSS grew and promoted a campaign based on peaceful lobbying for democratic change.
On the left is an enamelled pin worn by members of The National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage, established in 1910. The membership of this group was fiercely against granting women the parliamentary vote.
In twenty-first century Scotland, it is usual to look with dismay, and even anger, at societies that continue to deny women full political representation. Yet it is only one hundred years since some women achieved the right to vote in general elections in the United Kingdom—not really such a long time. Though many things have changed in terms of gender equality over the course of this century, and indeed, continue to change, this hasn’t happened overnight. Even when laws have been passed, it has often taken many years for general societal views to shift.
We know that a long hard fight took place before the battle for the vote was won, and along the way suffrage campaigners did manage to change the hearts and minds of many—but by no means all found it so easy to accept that women deserved to take their place at the ballot box. Instead, this was a campaign that continually met with staunch resistance.
It is understandable to assume that most of those who were against women obtaining the parliamentary vote were men, but this was not the case. Often, it was women who were just as ardent in speaking out against equality of voting rights. Even following the efforts made by women workers during the First World War, and up to the point that legislation to partially enfranchise women was enacted in 1918, anti-suffragists were still expressing disagreement with this move towards greater equality. This may seem surprising, but history is full of such surprises!
Perhaps even more startling to modern eyes is the fact that while many of the women who took an anti-suffrage stance absolutely maintained that exercising the parliamentary franchise was not a suitable occupation for women, in other areas they were not reactionary traditionalists. Indeed, many were women who had an active interest in politics and believed in improving women’s rights in a number of areas such as employment, education and access to healthcare: however, they did not believe that extending voting rights was the best way to bring about such change.
The Nineteenth Century Background
There is a view that during the last decades of the nineteenth century, for the mass of people, antagonism to women’s suffrage was passive—the ordinary woman or man was simply not that interested. Yet this is an understanding we should question; as suffrage activism grew in the last decades of the nineteenth century, both its supporters and detractors could come from the most unlikely places: the example which follows, provides evidence of this.
Two women, two different views:
In late nineteenth century Scotland, it was certainly possible to read about anti-suffrage views in broadsheet newspapers such as the Scotsman, Glasgow Herald, Dundee Courier and Aberdeen Press and Journal; and, as we have seen, within literary journals such as Blackwood’s Magazine (see The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Scotland: the early years). However, the matter was also discussed in more popular media and it is fair to conclude that this thorny issue had a wide cultural circulation in Scotland—much wider than has been realised until relatively recently.
For instance, the Glasgow Weekly Mail was an early example of what nowadays we might think of as the tabloid press. It was published each Saturday, and in the late 1870s around 200,000 people bought this weekly paper, which carried news alongside sensational stories. On top of this, the actual size of the paper’s readership was even larger, as copies would be passed around families and neighbours (and even posted overseas). It’s quite possible that a million or more people read the Mail each week. Given the size of Scotland’s population, this made it a phenomenally successful organ for spreading current opinion.
One popular feature of the paper was a poetry column to which amateur writers sent contributions. As well as the usual romantic poems about finding love, or rhapsodies on beautiful landscapes, much of this verse focused on topical issues of the day. Budding poets often conversed and argued with each other through this printed medium, with views being batted back and forth over a few weeks until interest moved on to another subject. Indeed, the Mail might be considered as a sort of nineteenth century version of social media!
One poet, who many decades after her death has become quite well known in Scotland for her verses in support of women’s rights, is a woman called Marion Bernstein (1846-1906). Many of Bernstein’s works first appeared in the Mail. Bernstein, who lived for most of her life in Glasgow, was fervently in favour of the female franchise: one example of her writing on this subject is entitled ‘Women’s Rights and Wrongs’. This poem, penned in 1875, was written in response to an earlier verse entitled ‘Women’s Rights Versus Women’s Wrongs’, also published in the Mail, and written by another female poet called Jessie Russell (1850-1881). As we will see, Russell opposed the female vote. Bernstein had a lower middle-class upbringing, but in her adult life, as a single woman, she struggled to make ends meet as a music teacher; Russell was orphaned at an early age and trained as a dressmaker, she later married a carpenter employed in the Glasgow shipyards and lived with her family lived on Clydeside.
The examples of Russell and Bernstein demonstrate that even as early as the 1870s, when campaigning for the vote was just beginning, taking a stance on women’s suffrage was not the preserve of metropolitan, well-educated, middle and upper classes women. This was an issue of the day for a much wider segment of the female population. Bernstein and Russell were motivated to write on this subject because of broader concerns they shared about the treatment of women in Victorian Scotland. On 20th February 1875, the Mail published Russell’s poem, which complained, among other things, about men claiming the right to beat their wives. Nevertheless, she did not believe that having a vote would deal with this widespread problem.
Here is a section from Jessie Russell’s poem:
I may be wrong in opinion, but still to my mind it seems
As if Parliament, Council, or Congress could never be womanly themes, —
Touching the so-called Woman’s Rights, such discussion belongs
To the tender and true in a less degree than the subject of Woman’s Wrongs.
And here is part of Marion’s Bernstein’s poetic reply:
Pray, in what way is wrong redressed,
But by conceding right?
And Woman Suffrage is the best
For which our sex can fight.
You’d give the lash to wifebeaters,
But surely you should know,
If women legislated, they’d
Have had it long ago.
Why should we put out trust in men,
Who oft betray out cause?
Let women vote away their wrongs,
And vote for righteous laws.
Russell’s stance illustrates the fact that not all who were interested in justice for women believed that having the vote would be a key promoter for improving women’s rights. Nonetheless, in a further poem entitled ‘A Recantation’, published two years later in her volume of poetry (The Blinkin’ o’ the Fire and Other Poems, 1877) Russell, evidently having pondered this issue, conceded that Marion Bernstein had been right and women did deserve to have the vote.
Though this type of engagement was prevalent, with men and women writing letters to the papers to express their views, attending public lectures on the subject or, —for men at least—maybe even arguing over it in the pub, those who were against giving women the vote lacked local or nationwide organisation in the way that pro‑suffragists enjoyed. However, as the issue became more fiercely debated and many politicians began to listen more sympathetically, that situation changed in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Who were the anti-suffrage campaigners?
Hostility towards suffragists and the very idea of the woman voter was commonplace by the turn of the twentieth century—as we have seen, nobody who read a newspaper could avoid it—but it was also a topic of conversation, of debates organised by many civic groups, it existed on billboards, postcards, and even found its way into variety theatre where suffrage activists were the butt of many a cruel joke. Against this background, some female supporters of women’s suffrage felt they had to do more to make themselves visible and ensure that their views were heard, rather than being dismissed as worthy only of ridicule.
In 1903, when some women campaigners took the decision to become more militant, this move served to open the floodgates of negative publicity, and even newspaper coverage of serious political debate saw women activists—soon dubbed ‘suffragettes’—belittled in subtler, but arguably more effective ways. In the years to come, high-profile protests by suffragettes, and their imprisonment and forced feeding would mean that the issue of women and the vote was rarely out of the news (see Suffrage Militancy in Scotland).
These tactics received impetus when in January 1906, the Liberal Party won a landslide victory in a general election. Moreover, for the first time, the Labour Party made some electoral inroads. Such factors raised the prospect that the House of Commons might soon contain more MPs in favour of female suffrage than against it. Following this, suffragettes pledged to vigorously harass the government at every available opportunity. After the election, a debate was held in the House of Commons on 25 April 1906, at which female campaigners heckled MPs from the Ladies Gallery, one local Scottish newspaper in Kirkintilloch offered this commentary.
As the clamour around the question of female suffrage rose, those in opposition felt the need to come together in order to fight back in a more coordinated way. It was women who initiated this, and in December 1908, the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League was formed in London. The individual at the centre of this movement was called Mary Augusta Ward—though she is better known by her married title of Mrs Humphrey Ward.
Mrs Ward was a popular and internationally successful novelist, so she was already well known and could easily command public attention. Initially, the women who joined the Anti-Suffrage organisation were from the same social circle as Mrs Ward. That is, they were metropolitan-based and from the middle and upper-middle classes. Many had been commenting publicly during the latter decades of the nineteenth century about the suffrage question, but without any kind of formal organisational focus. They were not all the backward-looking figures we might imagine. Many, including Mrs Ward, were ardent supporters of better educational opportunities for women, including access to higher education; they also supported the rights of women to be represented in local government, but on the question of the franchise they were of one mind—women should not have the parliamentary vote.
In 1909, men too came together to form the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage, which was dominated by two prominent political figures of the day: Lord Cromer and Lord Curzon. Just a year after this, the men’s and women’s leagues joined sides to form The National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage. The year 1910 also saw the arrival of a Scottish wing of the National League.
Through this amalgamation, women members may have hoped to raise the profile of the campaign and help better resource it; and the men may have hoped to prove an essential point they regularly made—that only a noisy minority of women wanted the vote and that more trustworthy female figures were far from being persuaded that this was a good course of action. Yet this merger of the two groups was often an uneasy alliance. On some issues, female anti-suffragists were not nearly as unreasonable as many of their male counterparts who clung to beliefs about women’s innate intellectual inferiority and inability to engage with political issues. The cartoon on the left, dating from 1906, exemplifies this view of women—that their minds were only capable of digesting starry-eyed, romantic and domestic trivia!
On the other hand, aside from the BIG question of the parliamentary vote, the views of women in the anti-suffrage movement about women’s rights often coincided with those of middle-class suffragists, particularly those who were not in favour of militancy and held more moderate views on the issue of obtaining female suffrage: in some lights, it is possible to see both sets of campaigners as two sides of the one coin.
Pro-suffragists placed their faith in the right to vote as a key constituent of improving women’s lot and the social fabric of the country more generally; while anti-suffragists believed that allowing women’s votes to become potentially more numerous than those of men would affect the character and effectiveness of parliamentary representation. Those against believed this could have seriously bad implications for the running of the country and, in the context of this time, of the British Empire. All of which, they thought, would have negative impacts on the welfare and livelihoods of women as well as men.
Without doubt, male anti-suffragists needed the credibility that their female counterparts brought to the campaign. Yet in inviting women into the movement, they probably bit off more than they could chew! Although the combined League was always led by a man (at the beginning this was Lord Cromer), women fought hard to maintain a leading role in the League and were much more successful than their male counterparts in promoting its views.
A more organised anti-suffrage message quickly spread, and during 1910 over one hundred female-led branches of the League were established across the UK, including in Scotland. Fuelling the energy of this campaign by women opposed to female enfranchisement were political developments at Westminster. The election of minority Liberal administrations following two further general elections held in January and December 1910 ushered in the possibility of legislation that would have allowed limited numbers of women to obtain the vote: these were known as the Conciliation Bills. However, all three proposed Conciliation Bills put before parliament between 1910 and 1912 were defeated in the House of Commons: yet it is important to remember that, at least for a time, it looked as though the anti-suffrage voice was going to be drowned out.
More on what the anti-suffrage campaigners believed
Perhaps ironically, members of the League were at pains to show that their arguments about women’s proper responsibilities were carefully considered. Propaganda was often centred on emphasising the important roles already played by women in society.
On the right is a postcard image produced by the League in 1908. As you can see, the dignified and classical figure (a veritable pillar of society!) holding the anti-suffrage banner is in stark contrast to the harum-scarum suffragette depicted in the background. Such images aimed to reinforce the idea that women already had status in society and the vote was not needed for them to fulfil their role as good citizens.
Although a formal anti-suffrage organisation did not appear until 1908, the ideas that it promoted can be dated back to a manifesto for women’s anti-suffrage issued in June 1889, when the journal Nineteenth Century Review published a statement entitled ‘An Appeal Against Women’s Suffrage’. This declaration was signed by a hundred women, most of whom were prominent in London society. A petition then followed, which attracted over 1500 more names. The arguments made in this statement went on to form the basis of the ideas propounded by the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League and even when this organisation joined together with male suffragists, objections to suffrage continued to be influenced heavily by the ideas of female anti-suffragists. Mrs Ward also initiated a propagandist magazine called the Anti-Suffrage Review; this was first issued in December 1908. One of its early enterprises was to set about getting supporters to sign a new petition indicating their opposition to women gaining the parliamentary vote. This petition was then sent to parliament. Monthly editions of the organisation’s magazine set out the League’s aims succinctly and with clarity on the front cover, where it was stated:
Objects of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League.
(a) To resist the proposal to admit women to the Parliamentary Franchise, and to Parliament.
(b) To maintain the principle of the representation of women on Municipal and other bodies concerned with the domestic and social affairs of the community.
The arguments made by female anti-suffragists hinged on the fact that they believed that women and men had separate spheres of interest and expertise. Most believed that both physiological and psychological differences between the sexes precluded women from having the same entitlements as men in respect of democratic rights, and that male and female responsibilities were different according to the strict and undisputable characteristics assigned to each on the grounds of sex. Three overlapping areas affected by such differences were regularly cited as reasons for denying women the vote. These were:
- Men alone could be compelled to take up arms in defence of the nation
- The progress of the British Empire had historically depended on leadership by men: women were therefore not equipped to make important decisions on this hugely important sphere, which anti-suffragists viewed as a ‘manly’ prerogative
- Allowing women to vote would necessarily compel the introduction of a universal franchise: for it would simply be unjust to allow some women the vote yet debar working-class men and members of the armed forces the same right given that they carried responsibility for defence of the country and its empire.
In addition, some female anti-suffragists claimed that exercising the vote would place an unwanted, extra burden on women of all classes who already shouldered weighty responsibilities in respect of the welfare of their families and local communities. Evidently, such arguments were persuasive to many listeners: by 1914, the League claimed it had 42,000 subscribing members plus 15,000 additional adherents to its cause.
Anti-suffragists in Scotland
If you look again at the picture of the pin worn by anti-suffragists you will see than one of the emblems decorating it is a thistle – symbolic of the Scottish wing of this British national movement (England and Wales are also represented). Like their pro-suffragist counterparts, anti-suffrage sympathisers in Scotland could come from all walks of life and from all political persuasions, but in recalling those who spearheaded anti-suffrage opinion north of the border, undeniably, many were aristocratic women who already had a high public profile. Notable Scottish aristocrats such as Lady Griselda Cheape, Katherine, Marchioness Tullibardine (later the Duchess of Atholl), and Violet Graham, Duchess of Montrose were prominent anti-suffragists and often spoke out in public for the cause. Between 1910 and 1914, branches of the anti-suffrage league were formed in many locations in Scotland. By 1912, for example the following locations had a branch:
Berwickshire [Vice-President: Mrs Baxendale; Secretary: Miss M. W. M. Falconer
Cupar [President: Lady Ansthruther; Secretary & Treasurer: Mrs Lamond]
Dundee [Treasurer: Mrs Young; Secretary: Miss Craik]
Edinburgh [President: The Marchioness of Tweeddale; Vice-President: The Countess of Dalkeith; Chairman: Lady Christison; Treasurer: Mrs J. M. Howden; Joint Secretaries: Mrs Johnston & Miss Kemp]
Glasgow [President: The Countess of Glasgow; Chairman: Mrs John N. McLeod; Treasurer: Mrs James Campbell; Secretary: Miss Eleanor M. Deane]
Camlachie and Dennistoun [Secretary: Miss Paterson]
Kilmacolm [Secretary: Mrs A. D. Ferguson]
Tradeston [Secretary: Miss Ainslie]
Nairn [President: Lady Lovat; Secretary & Treasurer: Miss B. Robertson]
Kirkcaldy [Vice-Presidents: Miss Oswald and Mrs Hutchison; Secretary: Miss A. Killoch]
Largs [President: The Countess of Glasgow; Vice-President: The Lady Kelvin; Treasurer: Miss Andrews; Secretary: Miss Jeanette Smith]
St Andrews [President: Mrs Armour-Hannay; Vice-President: Mrs Harmar; Treasurer: Miss Burnet; Secretary: Miss Playfair].
As we can see, the League had a presence in three of Scotland’s cities as well as in smaller towns; and it extended its scope to the Borders and the Highlands.
Anti-suffragists were just as energetic about gathering support in Scotland as they had been elsewhere in the UK. The newspaper article below is from the Dundee Courier; it describes one type of event held in order to recruit members to the League. As you can see, the article makes mention of several people who were likely well-known in the town of Cupar.
FROM The Dundee Courier, 22nd March 1912:
CUPAR LADIES AND ANTI-SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT.
An anti-Suffrage meeting, attended by over thirty ladies, was held yesterday afternoon at Southfield, Cupar, the residence of ex-Bailie and Mrs Lamond. The chair was occupied Lady Griselda Cheape, and Mrs Pierson, London, gave an interesting address. Mrs Robertson. Struan Park, Dr C. E. Douglas, and ex-Bailie Lamond also spoke. At the close a number of the ladies present joined the anti-Suffrage movement, with a view having a branch started in Cupar.
As can be seen, although the anti-suffrage movement was a UK-wide campaign, with a London-based leadership, many of its activities were organised at a local level and this local support was important for the standing of the movement generally: for it demonstrated that women living far beyond Belgravia and Bloomsbury were of the same mind as the southern elite. Prominent speakers such as Mrs Ward and Lady Griselda travelled all around the country addressing public meetings. And as well as setting up afternoon meetings held in comfortable middle-class homes, local speakers also went to workplaces. In 1911, for example, a Glasgow-based anti-suffrage activist called Agnes Stewart addressed 5000 workmen at the Singer factory in Clydebank.
Debates between suffragists and anti-suffragists were also very common across Scotland as the following example from Dumfriesshire shows. The arguments made against female suffrage here reflect the common concerns of many anti-suffragists that have already been highlighted: namely, that the relationship between the entitlement to vote and the male-held obligation to take up arms in defence of the country and its empire was critical; and that allowing women the vote would open the floodgates of universal suffrage:
EXTRACT FROM The Dumfries and Galloway Standard, 18th February 1914:
WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE. DEBATE AT CASTLE-DOUGLAS
Under the joint auspices of the local Literary Association and the local branch of the Women’s Suffrage Society an interesting debate on women’s suffrage took place the Town Hall, Castle- Douglas, Monday evening. The subject of debate was, “That it is not desirable to extend the political franchise to women” and the leaders were Mrs Archibald Colquhoun, of the Scottish Women’s Anti-Suffrage Society, and Lady Frances Balfour, president of the of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. The Rev. Dr George Galloway, minister of Kelton, presided, and the hall was crowded… The Chairman, in opening the proceedings, said whatever view they took woman’s suffrage was one of the living questions of the present day which called for serious thought. Mrs Colquhoun said ‘so long as physical force was displayed men were the responsible parties with the burden on their shoulders. So to her mind the power of decision rested in their hands. Women could be given votes but they could not be given the danger.’ (Applause) ‘They could not enfranchise any limited class of women without doing a great injustice to large working-class, and any franchise which left out the working class, married women, or the middle class working women was futile or ridiculous that it was not really worthy of consideration.’ (Applause.) ‘A comparatively- small minority of women could be said to have expressed themselves in favour of the suffrage…’
The campaign’s magazine, as well as specially published leaflets, were a further way of spreading the news that women and men right across the country were getting behind the fight to oppose female suffrage. Below is an excerpt from such a leaflet containing the words of a speech given by Lady Tullibardine (1874-1960), who was particularly active in this field in Scotland. The publication is undated but was most likely printed soon after the speech was given in November 1913.
A copy of the original leaflet in its entirety can be consulted at the National Library of Scotland [Shelfmark: 1937.21(6)].; and a two-page extract is also available online here: https://suffragettes.nls.uk/sources
In this extract, the imperial message is loud and clear:
|My Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen,
…The reason why, for the longest time, we have heard advanced for extending the franchise to women is the alleged grievance of the women taxpayers. We are told there should be no taxation without representation, and that women because they have no votes, are being classed with paupers, lunatics, and children. I think those who advance these arguments forget, in the first place, that representation does not depend upon tax paying so much as upon residence or occupancy, and that there are many thousands of people who are daily paying taxes without realising it, in respect of the tea, whisky, or tobacco they consume, without a thought of claiming any vote in consequence. It is also forgotten that besides lunatics and paupers there are two very important classes of men who render a service of supreme importance to the State, and yet, the great majority of whom have no votes. I refer to our sailors and soldiers…
So much for the so-called grievance of the woman householder. But I venture to say that those who claim the vote for women householders or property owners only, are Suffragists of an old-fashioned type, and that the majority of those taking part in the Suffrage movement today wish the franchise on a far more extended basis—on the same terms as it may hereafter be given to men. Within a year of the torpedoing of the Conciliation Bill—the Bill which embodied the proposals of more moderate Suffragists, and which would have enfranchised about a million, or a million and a-half of women—it had been replaced by proposals which would have enfranchised, it was estimated, some five or six millions of our sex. We know therefore, that if Women Suffrage comes it will be on a democratic basis—it will be neck of nothing. If Adult Suffrage be carried, the surplus of one and a-quarter millions of women will obviously place the government of the Empire in the hands of a sex entirely new to political responsibilities.
… to us as a nation is entrusted the guardianship of many races of backward civilisation, with infinitely lower conceptions that we have of the status of women. No thinking person would suggest for a moment that we should conform our ideas of women’s status to theirs. It is my firm conviction that we must, and that we can, raise their womanhood—though I fear that the action of, anyhow, a section of the Suffragist Party is not strengthening, but weakening, the hands of the gallant band of women who are engaged in this great task… in the present stages of thought or development of these various races, for them to learn that the balance of power in this country had passed into the hands of women would impair the prestige of the imperial government…
Greater levels of militancy by some pro-suffrage campaigners undoubtedly influenced the decision of anti-suffragists to become more organised. But even more influential was the fact that the suffrage campaign was gaining momentum in terms of parliamentary support. The leaders of the League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage claimed that most women in Britain were not interested in having the vote and that there was a danger that a small group of organised women would force the government to change the electoral system with potentially disastrous consequences. In asserting this, they possibly sowed the seeds of their own failure, for as the earlier examples of Jessie Russell and Marion Bernstein demonstrate, it was often women and men from less advantaged backgrounds who got behind the campaign for the vote and their numerical strength meant that in the end, politicians listened to them rather than to a handful of wealthy women – even if these individuals did command wider social influence.
It may seem hard to understand why any woman would reject ownership of such a fundamental democratic right, but as we have seen, this was not always done out of a lack of principle or from political apathy. The nature of party politics was also changing during this time, with the Labour Party gathering support and disarray emerging within the Liberal Party: the eventual success of the suffrage campaign must be seen within this context. The anti-suffrage league was eventually disbanded, but only after the bill introducing the limited enfranchisement of women was enacted in 1918. It remains to be seen whether anti-suffrage activists ever changed their minds about whether this was a positive step: but it is certain that by this point the arguments they had propounded were a spent force where larger public opinion about democracy was concerned.
The anti-suffrage campaign:
Julia Bush. ‘British Women’s Anti-Suffragism and the Forward Policy, 1908-14’, Women’s History Review, Volume 11, Number 3, (2002).
Julia Bush. Women Against the Vote: Female Anti-Suffragism in Britain (Oxford University Press, 2007).
Brian Harrison. Separate Spheres: The Opposition to Women’s Suffrage in Britain (first edition, 1978).
Maroula Joannou. ‘Mary Augusta Ward (Mrs Humphry) and the opposition to women’s suffrage’, Women’s History Review, Volume 14, Issue 3-4 (2005).
Suffrage and the popular press:
Sarah Pedersen. The Scottish Suffragettes and the Press (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).
The poets Marion Bernstein and Jessie Russell:
Cohen & L. Fleming. ‘Mirren’s Autobiography: The Life and Poetry of Marion Bernstein 1846 – 1906’, Scottish Literary Review (Spring 2010).
Cohen & L. Fleming. ‘Constructing the Collected Poems of Marion Bernstein’, Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society (2011).
Cohen, A. Fertig & L. Fleming (eds). A Song of Glasgow Town: The Collected Poems of Marion Bernstein, (Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2013).
Breitenbach, L. Fleming, S. K. Kehoe & L. Orr (eds.), Scottish Women: a Documentary History, c.1780-1914, (Edinburgh University Press, 2013), pp. 82-3, 93-5 & 107.
How your research can help!
The anti-suffrage campaign is very under-researched in Scotland. For this reason, it is perhaps easy to assume that it had very little influence and few supporters. This may not be the case! While it may not have been strong everywhere, it is possible there were Scottish localities in which anti-suffrage was the prevailing view. You can help uncover a more accurate picture of what difference the anti-suffrage movement made.
If you find information about a branch of the League in your area, and/or any reporting of anti-suffrage activities, Women’s History Scotland are very keen to know about this. Please share your findings with us by completing our short questionnaire – Get involved – What did you find out?
Questions for investigation
- Take a look at the late nineteenth century local newspaper records in your area (see ‘General Guidance: sources for researching the women’s suffrage movement in Scotland’) It might be helpful to target a year and month when there had been a parliamentary debate on female suffrage – this should not be difficult for a debate on this issue was held almost every year between 1870 and 1884. Most such newspapers provided opportunities for reader engagement – usually through a letters column. Try to find out if people were writing to the paper about women and the vote. What were they saying – were they for or against?
- The victory by the Liberals and arrival of numbers of Labour Party candidates at Westminster in 1906 is generally recalled as a watershed election. Following this election, who represented your area at Westminster? Was this MP a supporter of female suffrage? The local press should provide answers to these questions.
- Find out more about the 1906 election and its implications for social reform, including the franchise; there are a number of reliable sources you can consult online such as that provided by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography here: http://www.oxforddnb.com/public/themes/95/95348.html
- Topic for discussion: Consider the reasons why the election results may have been a pivotal moment for the suffrage movement and the imminent rise of an anti-suffrage campaign.
- Find out more about the aristocratic women who promoted the league in Scotland and what motivated them. You can do this online. Most libraries can provide online access to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and if you are a member of a public library you can sometimes login from home using your library card. Here is a link to the login page where you can check this out: http://www.oxforddnb.com/auth/login.jsp
- The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women is a further important resource for finding out about these women. Some libraries will be able to provide online access to this, or, they may have a copy of the dictionary on their shelves.
- Local newspapers reported on speeches, debates and similar public activities that involved anti-suffragists. Check your local press: in this, you may be able to find out information about Scottish anti-suffragists active in your area, including prominent figures in the movement. Lady Griselda, for instance, was very active in Fife and Angus. Depending on where you live, you may also be able to find out about the setting up of local branches of the anti-suffrage league and their subsequent activities.
- Topic for discussion: The suffrage question had undoubted underlying class dimensions. What do you think about this issue? Do the genteel meetings reported above, and the character of places where there was a branch of the League tell us anything about the probable, overall social complexion of the anti-suffrage movement in Scotland?
- if you are interested in further pursuing research, the National Library of Scotland holds copies of the Anti-Suffrage Review [shelfmark: Q53] and similar anti-suffrage publications like the leaflet promoting Lady Tullibardine’s speech; these can be consulted in the library’s reading rooms [General Guidance: sources for researching the women’s suffrage movement in Scotland’]
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