not only men, but women, opposed the idea of votes for women:
already have the municipal vote, and are eligible for membership of most
local authorities. These
bodies deal with questions of housing, education, care of children,
workhouses and so forth, all of which are peculiarly within a woman's
however, has to deal mainly with the administration of a vast Empire, the
maintenance of the Army and Navy, and with questions of peace and war,
which lie outside the legitimate sphere of woman's influence.
government rests ultimately on force, to which women,
owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of contributing.
not capable of full citizenship, for the simple reason that they are not
available for purposes of national and Imperial defence.
All government rests ultimately on force, to which women, owing to
physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of contributing.
little doubt that the vast majority of women have no desire for the vote.
acquirement of the Parliamentary vote would logically involve admission to
Parliament itself, and to all Government offices.
It is scarcely possible to imagine a woman being Minister for War,
and yet the principles of the Suffragettes involve that and many similar
is not an isolated
state, but the administrative and governing centre of a system of colonies
and also of dependencies. The
effect of introducing a large female element into the Imperial
electorate would undoubtedly be to weaken the centre of power in the eyes
of these dependent millions.
legislation in Parliament shows that the interests of women are perfectly
safe in the hands of men.
Suffrage is based on the idea of the equality of the sexes, and tends to
establish those competitive relations which will destroy chivalrous
at present a vast indirect influence through their menfolk on the politics
of this country.
physical nature of women unfits them for direct competition with men.
Saxon Mills, writing in the years before 1914
are the reasons which some modern school textbooks have said were given
for opposing the vote:
opposition was great. Some
men objected to women having the vote because they believed them to be
inferior. It was
suggested that women could not think out matters coolly and calmly.
Others would not agree to women’s suffrage because they did not
want change. Women had
never voted before. Why
should they start now? A
further objection involved property.
In 1900, few women were householders or lodgers.
If the vote were given to them, then it would have to be given also
to men who were not householders or lodgers.
At that time political parties were not prepared to do this.
Ray, The Place of Women ( 1971)
school textbook from the 1970s.
were of course many people who opposed the idea of women’s suffrage.
They were known as the ‘Antis’.
Here are some of the reasons they gave:
Women would be corrupted by politics and chivalry would die out
If women became involved in politics, they would stop marrying, having
children, and the human race would die out
3. Women were emotional creatures, and incapable of making a
sound political decision.
reasons may seem ludicrous to us, but at the time were taken seriously by
a wide cross-section of women as well as men.
Atkinson, Votes for Women (1988)
school textbook from the 1980s
against women having the vote.
first, the idea that women should have the vote was seen as so ridiculous
that no one attempted to oppose it.
When the suffragettes began to win support, those opposing them had
to take them more seriously.
are the arguments they came up with.
Some of them might seem silly to you, but they made a lot of sense
to people at the time:
“Women and men have ‘separate spheres’.”
“Most women do not want the vote.”
“Women’s role is in local affairs.”
“Women are already represented by their husbands.”
“It is dangerous to change a system that works.”
“Women do not fight to defend their country.”
Shephard and Rosemary Rees, British Society in Change 1906-1918 (
modern school textbook
book published by Liverpool Museum echoes many of these ideas:
Anti-Women’s Suffrage League
concern about the impact of women getting the vote was quite widespread
throughout the duration of the campaign.
This concern had complex roots bound up with Victorian views about
women’s position in society. On
the one hand women were considered too precious and innocent to become
embroiled in public life, on the other they were thought too irrational
and emotional to make an intelligent contribution.
Whatever their abilities, their place was thought to be in the
women they were also considered to be naturally conservative.
The Liberal Party and later on the Labour Party feared the backlash
of women’s votes which they expected to be conservative.
It was these concerns that had kept women out of public life for
such a line time. Those
campaigning for women’s suffrage were not helped by the fact that
opposition to their cause included many women.
In 1908 general concerns took on an organised form and a small
group of well known women formed the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage
, Votes for Women: the events on Merseyside (1992)
Van Helmond is a museums development officer.
this comment from a famous left-wing historian suggests that some people
did not support women's suffrage because they thought there were other,
more important causes to fight for:
change in the social position and expectations of women became obvious in
the last decades of the 19th century.
Among these we need not pay too much attention to the… dramatic
campaign of the ‘suffragists’ and ‘suffragettes’ for the women’s
right to vote… Votes
for women were, like other aspects of female emancipation, strongly
supported on principle by the new labour and socialist parties…
However, whilst this new socialist left overlapped with suffragist
feminism, it had to notice that most working-class women laboured under
disabilities which were much more urgent than not having the vote, and
which would not be automatically removed by the right to vote.
Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire (1987)
Hobsbawn was one of
’s leading historians, although he had a socialist interpretation of