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'.
where the ‘battle for census’ was fought out
particularly sharply. From Manchester University had sprung Michael Sadler’s
stinging ‘crime against science’ jibe; similarly, a strong labour movement, notably
the ILP and Women’s Co-operative Guild, now largely supported adult suffrage.
On the eve of census night, however, all the main women’s suffrage organizations
– NUWSS, WSPU, WFL and Men’s League – remained energetically supported
right across the region. The NUWSS, boasting branches in almost every small
suburb, was led by suffragists like journalist Helena
have to go.3
In all this continued political turmoil, voteless women were therefore becoming doubly disadvantaged. Impoverished widows and their orphan children
would be excluded from the government’s grand new insurance scheme; meanwhile women tax-payers – also voteless – had to contribute to it. How aware
were suffrageorganizations of these impending small-print threats to groups of
Naturally, the Women’s Tax Resistance League tracked Lloyd George’s every
move with an eagle eye. It could not however wield the clout of large numbers.
Its aim of reaching
they were aware of the new questions to be asked about married women. Rather,
the predominant suspicion was of Asquith’s government betraying women once
again by ditching the Conciliation Bill.
So, by late July 1910, the WFL was poised ready for the census protest. A
letter was circulated, probably by Edith How-Martyn, to eighteen suffrageorganizations; these of course included the NUWSS and WSPU, plus smaller
professional pressure groups like the Artists’ Suffrage League. This letter is worth
quoting fully, for it carefully sets the framework for the coming
just at the far end of Aldwych. The imposing architecture
of these offices spoke of the centrality of women’s suffrageorganizations within
During census weekend, Trafalgar Square and Aldwych would be the destination for many. Yet for sending a powerful message to Asquith’s government,
the effectiveness of the census boycott in London would not lie here. It would
be found where most people actually lived, predominantly in suburban boroughs like Hampstead. This lay on the city’s northern slopes, past Marylebone
with its women doctors’ Harley
votes for and a mere
88 against. (However, many Liberals who voted for it believed it was too narrow
to go further without more democratic amendments. And both front benches
were virtually empty; yet it was crucial the government grant facilities to the bill.
Brailsford urged the NUWSS to cajole Lloyd George in particular, and wrote to
Fawcett: ‘I think the insurance scheme is the golden opportunity. The moment
he thinks he can be the hero of the women of England our Bill will pass.’)10
Buoyed up by Kemp’s success and keen not to lose momentum, suffrageorganizations
When Asquith became Prime Minister in April 1908, the chances of enfranchisement took a nose-dive. Instinctively hostile to giving women the vote, he told a suffrage deputation that first they had to convince ‘the great mass of women’ and then ‘the great mass of men’. How were suffrage organization to persuade the public? As well as the great suffrage processions, campaigners initiated daring caravan propaganda tours. The first was the Women's Freedom League van which set out in May 1908 from Charlotte Despard's country cottage to tour Surrey, Sussex and Kent. Among these intrepid vanners was flamboyant actress Muriel Matters, newly arrived from South Australia. She enjoyed going ‘a-gypsying’ ~ but others joining the caravan tour remembered the hostility of anti-suffrage crowds. Margaret Nevinson from Hampstead joined the tour in Kent and recalled the van being surrounded as ‘the mob howled like wild beasts’. A second 1908 caravan tour was that of suffragists (NUWSS) which travelled down from Scotland to Oxford. Meanwhile, in October Muriel Matters and other suffragettes padlocked themselves to the iron grille of the Ladies’ Gallery in the House of Commons. Would all these imaginative propaganda tactics help persuade Asquith?
In the coming General Election, John Burns had the misfortune to be the only minister defending a central London seat. Both the Pankhursts’ WSPU and the Women's Freedom League (WFL) homed in on his Battersea fiefdom. Indeed, as this was Charlotte Despard's own backyard and Burns appeared to want to prohibit married women's employment, it was little surprise that the WFL produced a special leaflet: ‘Turn Mr Burns out!’ On polling day, Burns was hissed by women in the gallery ~ but was re-elected, as was Lloyd George. Asquith's Liberal government was returned to power, but without its earlier huge majority. Suffrage organizations however remained cautiously optimistic. Brailsford and Nevinson consulted Mrs Fawcett's NUWSS over what compromise suffrage measure might now be possible. It had to be a sufficiently narrow property-based franchise to retain Conservative support, yet broad enough to appease Liberal and Labour. A cross-party Conciliation Committee of MPs was formed and, after much behind-the-scenes lobbying, a Conciliation Bill eventually emerged. It was narrow and would only enfranchise one million women with property. But it would at least establish the principle of equal voting rights for men and women. This was their hope.
, suffrageorganizations needed persuasive
chutzpah. The Women’s Tax Resistance League, notably Margaret Kineton
Parkes, certainly was persistent. But did it possess the inspirational qualities of,
say, Emmeline Pankhurst or Charlotte Despard? Possibly not. Despite trying
to persuade other suffrage societies, the number of women willing to add their
names the list of resisters never reached near the target of five hundred names.20
Although was certainly energetic, the League remained small. Rather, its significance was primarily symbolic. It staged resistance ‘spectacles