ABOUT THE PROJECT
OUR MISSION AND MAP
Our mission at Mapping Women’s Suffrage is to identify and map the locations, together with the lives and materials, of as many Votes for women campaigners as possible in cities, towns and villages across England in 1911*
This will allow us to take a fresh look at the people, places and diversities, that made up the women’s suffrage movement in exciting new ways by bringing together the latest research from a wide range of people and places, and displaying it centrally for everyone free, on an interactive suffrage map that ensures key data about campaigners is recorded and archived for future use.
The suffrage map has been custom built for the project by members of Warwick University’s Academic Technologies team. It creates user friendly layers of knowledge and learning capturing the whereabouts and the lives of suffrage campaigners and their roles in the votes for women campaign. The map currently enables a range of digitised materials such as photographs, letters and official documents - often scattered across and between different physical and online locations - to be gathered together for each campaigner, centralised and viewed at the place they were living at the time of the government population or census survey, of 1911. The map also provides tools you can use to filter campaigners on the map by key data about them. This currently includes which suffrage society they supported in 1911, and whether they took part in an organised suffrage boycott of the government census that year (see below). You can also choose whether to view campaigner locations on a current street map, or a historical 1888-1913 Ordinance Survey Map.
Each Votes for women campaigner recorded on the map, is denoted by a circular coloured icon or ‘dot’ at the address where they were living in 1911. The suffrage map recognises the contribution of multiple suffrage organisations – both law-abiding suffragists and law-breaking suffragettes - in winning Votes for Women. Therefore, the map colour codes each campaigner icon on the map by which suffrage society they were most active with at that time - purple for WSPU, red for NUWSS, and so on. You can use the side menu tools on screen, to turn on and off campaigner icons on the map, either by suffrage society, and/or by their stance on the census boycott.
As the suffrage map is populated, the coloured icons for each campaigner collectively create a unique suffrage ‘heat’ map visually illuminating the different shapes and geographies of suffrage society support, and of census protest amongst campaigners, across the country. This allows the suffrage map not only to give new insight into ordinary and often ‘hidden’ campaigner lives, but into the larger patterns of the votes for women campaign in 1911, encouraging fresh studies and interpretations of the women’s suffrage movement.
All images courtesy of The Women's Library, LSE
*Please note we are a work in progress. Our current focus on England ensures the number of campaigners recorded, and the size of data and materials gathered about them, is manageable during the initial phase of the project. However, Mapping Women’s Suffrage fully acknowledges the importance and vivacity of the suffrage movement and its campaigners across Britain and Ireland and we hope to expand our suffrage mapping boundaries as the project gains interest and funding toward the suffrage centenary in 2028. If you would like to help with this, or any other aspect of the project, please Contact Us.
By 1911, the women’s suffrage movement had campaigned for half-a-century and had gathered considerable support in its demand for Votes for Women.
The largest women’s suffrage organization, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was formed in 1897 and was later led by Mrs Millicent Fawcett. Its suffragists used law-abiding methods such as petitions and processions to patiently persuade the government to give women the vote. Thanks to the NUWSS’s considerable work, a network of local suffrage groups spread across the country.
Yet, the government repeatedly failed to act on votes for women causing immense frustration amongst suffrage campaigners. Hence, in 1903, a new society - the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) - was formed in Manchester by Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters. It soon adopted new tactics to win women the vote and was willing to break the law. The WSPU’s suffragettes pursued a strategy of ‘spectacle politics’ carrying out a range of headline-grabbing activities including mass window smashing and later a campaign of arson. These actions resulted in many arrests and imprisonments. The government refused to acknowledge imprisoned suffragettes as political prisoners, so hunger strikes began in 1909. The government soon responded with forcible feeding - a torturous practice that was condemned across the suffrage movement [for more information download our Suffrage Glossary in Resources]. This embittered already tense relations between suffrage campaigners and then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government.
Not all campaigners felt happy with the WSPU suffragettes especially their use of more extreme tactics like arson. Suffragists in the NUWSS preferred to retain what they saw as dignified, law-abiding tactics to win popular and political support for the Votes for Women cause. And in 1907, some suffragettes broke away from the WSPU to form a new organisation called the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). The WFL led by Mrs Charlotte Despard was prepared to break the law and used a variety of tactics to campaign for the vote, but preferred methods of civil disobedience such as refusing to pay taxes – No Vote, No Tax – or taking part in the suffrage census boycott of 1911 (see below).
Despite differences between suffrage organizations, the Votes for Women campaign grew in strength and number and together these larger, and many smaller suffrage societies and their campaigners, helped secure votes for women in 1918. However, it was an important but only a partial victory as the vote was only granted to some women over 30 who met property qualifications. It was not until a decade later in 1928, that women were finally given the vote on the same terms as men.
It is the identities, locations and lives of many of these determined campaigners ~ and in the year 1911 ~ that Mapping Women’s Suffrage aims to capture. You can click on our map to find a suffrage campaigner who lived near you – a suffragist or suffragette down your street.
WHY MAP 1911?
In 1911, the women’s suffrage campaign was at its height. Many women and men who sympathised with Votes for Women had become active campaigners by then. Indeed, suffrage branches had sprung up the length and breadth of England. There was scarcely a community or town that did not have its own NUWSS branch. Larger towns and cities often had WSPU and WFL branches too as well as a paid suffrage organizer, a central office, and even a suffrage shop selling books, posters, scarfs and badges.
Importantly in April 1911, the Government conducted its decennial census survey to gather household and population information needed to inform its ambitious health and welfare reform scheme [we still fill in the government census survey every ten years to this day]. For the first time in 1911, the census was filled in by the head of household’s own hand rather than by a government official, allowing us to glimpse right inside every family home. The 1911 census data together with supporting information drawn from archives, newspapers, local events and records, enables the Mapping Women’s Suffrage project to identify and plot the regular home addresses that year of many suffragists and suffragettes at the height of the movement, putting them back in the neighbourhoods where they lived and campaigned.
Using the 1911 census to help research and map suffrage lives is complicated. The census itself became embroiled in the politics of the Votes for Women campaign. Militant societies, notably the WSPU and WFL, who were prepared to break the law, urged suffragettes to boycott the census illegally, spoiling the state’s population statistics in protest at women’s exclusion from the vote. Their defiant slogan was ‘No Vote, No Census’ ~ to win publicity for the cause. Suffragettes who boycotted the census either chose to evade the census officials who collected the forms altogether, hiding away in darkened rooms so that they were not counted. Or they chose to resist, remaining in their homes but defiantly refusing to supply the information the census official required. This was illegal and women who participated risked a hefty fine or even imprisonment.
Census records courtesy of The National Archives
For some suffragettes, the census forms themselves became symbols of protest ~ they scrawled messages of defiance across them (see images above). Many suffragette and suffragist census forms are supplied free by the Mapping Women’s Suffrage project (thanks to partners The National Archives) and can be viewed on the map.
This action contrasted with the large law abiding NUWSS which urged its members to comply with the census, arguing that boycotting it was unlikely to persuade either politicians or the public to grant women the vote. This meant that most suffrage campaigners complied with the census. However, patterns will have varied across England, cities and country, north and south, London and elsewhere and among individual campaigners irrespective of suffrage society support.
The Mapping Women’s Suffrage project has incorporated the census protest into the map. You can use the drop-down menu to select and filter which campaigners resisted, evaded, or complied with the 1911 census and which suffrage society they supported. Remember, our map locates Votes for Women campaigners where they were living at the time of the 1911 census, and this may not always be the same place they spent census night – especially if they were census ‘evaders’. You can see an example of how some of the complexities around the census boycott have been negotiated for the map, by clicking on WSPU suffragette Emily Wilding Davison.