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Gender and the Conservative Party, 1880s to the present

Historians and political scientists have deemed the twentieth century 'the Conservative Century', owing to the electoral and cultural dominance of the Conservative Party in Britain. This book traces the relationship among women, gender and the Conservative Party from the 1880s to the present, and thereby seeks to fill that gap. A gender inclusive approach allows for a more nuanced understanding of political machinations, power and the unprecedented popularity of both conservatism and unionism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, was regarded as a charismatic, radical figure, who was the co-leader of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), a notorious suffrage organization campaigning for the parliamentary vote for women in Edwardian Britain. In 1928 Lady Iveagh, Vice-Chairman of the National Union of Conservative Associations (NUCA), claimed that one million women were members of the Conservative Party. The book focuses on how the Primrose League re-made itself for its female members between 1914 and 1932. It shows that the Conservative Party leadership and male candidates were keen to present themselves as the champions of home interests, playing up their family-man credentials against their rowdy electoral culture of Labour. The book also examines inquires how the deliberate choice of middlebrow rhetoric as well as the language of citizenship enabled Conservative women to construct a cross-class language of democracy. It explores British conservatism, highlighting the history of the Tory Party as part of the study of women and their sectional interest in 'the politics of gender'.

August 1899–May 1906
Maureen Wright

This chapter describes Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy's pacifism over her militancy. She wrote of ‘our outlanders’ at home, castigating the government for preparing to defend the rights of disenfranchised male settlers in the Boer Republics of South Africa while every British woman remained without a political voice. Her personal construction of militancy was never one that would envisage the loss of human life. Elizabeth's peerless organisational skills and her philosophy of ‘consent’ to government based on personal autonomy were crucial in achieving the success of the National Convention. She undertook the arduous work following the National Convention at a time of extreme anxiousness in her private life. Her engagement with socialist ideals took a final and possibly surprising turn and her total commitment to the style of militancy advocated by the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) was revised.

in Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and the Victorian Feminist Movement
June 1906–March 1918
Maureen Wright

Though Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy privately lamented the loss of her husband, she seldom reflected on their lives together in her correspondence after 1906. As always, she resolutely overcame distress and looked to the future. Elizabeth journeyed to Manchester for two days of energetic campaigning and discussion regarding the planned ‘women's month’ in London, where both the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) and the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) had organised mass public demonstrations. She had wholeheartedly praised Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst's determination to take direct, disruptive action in seeking the adoption of a government women's suffrage bill, but the escalation of the methods of militancy used during 1908–12 brought her increasing unease. The Equal Franchise Act gave women the vote on the same terms as men.

in Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and the Victorian Feminist Movement
Suffragists and suffragettes
Sonja Tiernan

After a long and arduous battle to gain equality, Eva Gore-Booth's perseverance was rewarded in 1904. Within days of Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst's threat, Christabel Pankhurst and Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) member Annie Kenney arrived at a Liberal Party meeting in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Pankhurst was an executive committee member of the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage (NESWS). Before the end of 1905 they formed the National Industrial and Professional Women's Suffrage Society (NIPWSS). Gore-Booth immediately distanced herself from this new, militant wing of the feminist movement and from Pankhurst. On 19 May 1906, women from suffrage organisations all over Britain arrived in London to meet with Campbell-Bannerman. A report in an American newspaper clearly favoured Gore-Booth's delivery style.

in Eva Gore-Booth
A Conservative suffragette?
June Purvis

The British state obviously considered Christabel Pankhurst as an important figure since during her lifetime, in 1936, she was honoured by being made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. It is only through exploring Christabel's feminist ideas, and placing her as a pioneer of what in the 1970s would become known as 'radical feminism' that we can interrogate and critically assess these cited claims that she was a Conservative suffragette. Pankhurst, the Chief Organiser and key strategist of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), firmly believed that the WSPU could only succeed if it became a national movement that embraced women of all social classes and all political persuasions. Pankhurst in her suffrage years developed a women-centred approach to politics. She advocated a separatist feminist position which called on women to organise together, independent of male political parties.

in Rethinking right-wing women
The biography of an insurgent woman
Author: Maureen Wright

Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy (1833–1918) was one of the most significant pioneers of the British women's emancipation movement, though her importance is little recognised. Wolstenholme Elmy referred to herself as an ‘initiator’ of movements, and she was at the heart of every campaign Victorian feminists conducted — her most well-known position being that of secretary of the Married Women's Property Committee from 1867–82. A fierce advocate of human rights, as the secretary of the Vigilance Association for the Defence of Personal Rights, Wolstenholme Elmy earned the nickname of the ‘parliamentary watch-dog’ from Members of Parliament anxious to escape her persistent lobbying. Also a feminist theorist, she believed wholeheartedly in the rights of women to freedom of their person, and was the first woman ever to speak from a British stage on the sensitive topic of conjugal rape. Wolstenholme Elmy engaged theoretically with the rights of the disenfranchised to exert force in pursuit of the vote, and Emmeline Pankhurst lauded her as ‘first’ among the infamous suffragettes of the Women's Social and Political Union. As a lifelong pacifist, however, she resigned from the WSPU Executive in the wake of increasingly violent activity from 1912. A prolific correspondent, journalist, speaker and political critic, Wolstenholme Elmy left significant resources, believing they ‘might be of value’ to historians. This book draws on a great deal of this documentation to produce a portrait that does justice to her achievements as a lifelong ‘Insurgent woman’.

Abstract only
Elizabeth Crawford and Jill Liddington

them being Miss Williams, Organising Secretary to the Womens Social and Political Union. There was also a Miss Wilcox there, Sergeant Graham having heard her name mentioned … They had all left the Rooms at 9am with the exception of seven who could be seen inside the rooms.’ Suffrage: WSPU. 20 miles west Taylor, Mona [Maria], [about 59 years]. Chipchase Castle, Hexham. Census night: evading. Family: husband, 61, colliery owner; daughter, Violet, 23. Household: 9 servants. Suffrage: WSPU. Scottish border: 30 miles north.

in Vanishing for the vote