The power of the Suffragette magazines
History remembers the suffragists as a group of brave women who led the suffrage movement in the late 19th and early 20th century with the aim to give women the right to vote. As a result of their tireless efforts, in 1918 women over 30 years old in the United Kingdom were granted the right to vote, which was later extended to all women in 1928.
During this long and difficult historical battle the suffragists founded many newspapers and magazines which they used to advance and promote their agenda, in the hopes of expanding its reach. Though there were many official publications, the majority of their journals and newsletters were published independently; the suffragists had to keep their work secret due to the dangerous stigma that loomed over their movement and the violent nature of the prohibitions that came with it.
Perhaps the most well-known suffragist was Emmeline Pankhurst. Emmeline was an exceptional woman who led the whole British suffragette movement, spent her entire life fighting for women's rights, and whose remarkable legacy continues to inspire women till this day. After women in Australia, New Zealand and white women in some states of America received their right to vote, she realised things were not moving fast enough in England and founded the Women's Social and Political Union in 1903. All three of her daughters – Christabel, Sylvia and Adela were prominent members of the WSPU. And though, Christabel took leadership of the union Sylvia and Adela decided to leave it because they didn't agree with the organization's aggressive tactics.
In 1907 the WSPU began publishing Votes for women, which later became the most popular and influential suffrage magazine. First published under the joint editorship of Emmeline Lawrence and her husband Frederick, Votes for women started as a monthly publication (later changed to weekly), which offered detailed articles, lengthy biographies of suffragists, reports of local activism, coverage of protests and demonstrations, and ads for WSPU products such as leaflets, pins, etc.
However, after Christabel expelled the couple from the union in 1912 they took full control over the publication and the WSPU founded its new magazine – The Suffragette. But, following England's declaration of war on Germany in 1915 the Women's Social and Political Union changed the magazine's name to Britannia. With Christabel as editor, the publication had a very patriotic and militant undertone and often attacked anti-war activists, politicians and military leaders for a having a 'soft approach', referring to their war strategies.
Meanwhile, Sylvia Pankhurst felt like winning East London over was essential for their movement and founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes. She then started The Women's Dreadnought in 1914 as their official publication.
Across the Atlantic the official suffragette journal was The Suffragist. First published in 1913 by the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, it aimed to further their cause. Its editors were Alice Paul and Lucy Burns - famous American suffragists, active women's right supporters and leaders of the campaign behind the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which allowed women to vote. Together, they organised The Woman Suffrage Procession in 1913, which saw over 8000 women marching in Washington, DC to protest "the present political organisation of society from which women are excluded" (hmm, sound familiar?!) and Silent Sentinels – a group of nearly 2000 women who protested in silence in front of the White House for over two years, until the 19th Amendment was finally passed on the 4th of June, 1919. Shortly after printing of The Suffragist came to an end. After helping American women take a giant leap towards the dreadful glass ceiling, the two close friends continued the fight from within and by founding the National Women's Party. Alice Paul remained its leader for the next 50 years, where she successfully included women in the groups protected from discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Nevertheless, The Woman's journal, founded in 1970, ran for 61 years, which made it the most successful suffragette publication. Initially, the newspaper was published by Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Browne Blackwell. Lucy was an active suffragist and abolitionist. She spoke out fearlessly against misogyny and slavery and was a founding member of the American Suffragette Association.
Perhaps the most unorthodox suffragette publication was called Lucifer the Light Bearer, founded by Moses Harman in 1883. Moses wanted to 'break the chains that for ages have bound them to the rack of man-made law, spiritual, economic, industrial, social, and especially sexual'. Harman wrote a letter condemning forced sex in marriage and referring to it as 'rape'. However, discussion of marital rape was strictly prohibited and he spent six years in prison. In the face of Moses Harman women had a true male ally – he understood their struggle and chose to do everything in his power to advance their agenda.
All of these publications were more than just magazines and newsletters with a purpose that went far beyond the telling of a story. They were a powerful tool, which played a very important role in the fight against inequality, used to gather and unite women and other allies of the suffrage movement. Therefore, the women who were involved in the creative process have left a tremendous mark in the publishing history and should never be forgotten.