Great Britain the woman’s suffrage movement roughly paralleled
that of the United States, but in the movement's later stages more
vigorous and violent tactics were often employed.
The great pioneer figure
of British feminism was the writer Mary Wollstonecraft. Her chief
work, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), is one of the
major feminist documents of the 18th century. During the 1830s and
1840s British suffragism received notable aid and encouragement
from the Chartists, who fought unsuccessfully for a sweeping programme
of human rights.
In subsequent years the
woman-suffrage issue was kept before the British public by a succession
of liberal legislators, among them the statesmen and social philosophers
John Stuart Mill, John Bright, and Richard Cobden. Mill helped to
found in 1865 the first British woman-suffrage association. All
efforts to secure the franchise for women were effectively opposed.
Prominent among the anti-feminists of the period were the reigning
monarch, Queen Victoria and the British prime ministers William
Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.
The British woman-suffrage
movement acquired additional impetus when in 1897 various feminist
groups merged to form the National Union of Woman Suffrage Societies.
A section of the membership soon decided that its policies were
timid and indecisive, and in 1903 the dissident and more militant
faction, led by the colourful feminist Emmeline Pankhurst, established
the Women's Social and Political Union. Pankhurst's suffragettes
soon won a reputation for boldness and militancy.
Tactics employed by the
organization included boycotting, bombing, window breaking, picketing,
and harassment of anti-suffragist legislators. In 1913 one dedicated
suffragette publicised her cause by deliberately hurling herself
to death under the hooves of horses racing in the Derby at Epsom
Downs. Because of their forceful and provocative behaviour, the
suffragettes were often handled roughly by the police and repeatedly
jailed and fined.
During World War I the
British suffragettes ceased agitation and made notable contributions
to many aspects of the war effort, favourably influencing public
opinion. In 1918 Parliament enfranchised all women householders,
householders' wives, and women university graduates over 30 years
of age. Parliament lowered the voting age of women to 21 in 1928,
giving them complete political equality with men.
In 1979 British trade
union leader Margaret G. Bondfield became the first woman cabinet
member in British history. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became the
first woman prime minister of Great Britain.