Suffragettes in Reading - Vote100 

 

The suffrage movement's origins can be traced back to 1866, where a 1500 women signed a petition demanding that women should have the same political rights as men. The only signatory from Berkshire was a Mrs Eliza Ratcliffe, the principal of the Ladies' School, Burlton House in Reading at the time. 


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John Stuart Mill and Henry Fawcett were presented the petition who added an amendment to the Reform Act that would give equal rights to women; unfortunately the amendment was defeated receiving only 73 votes in favour against an overwhelming 196 against. 



The amendments failure inspired the suffrage movement and three years later in 1869, nine more Reading-based women signed to names to a universal suffrage petition. 



The suffrage movement grew steadily in Reading and in 1872, George Palmer chaired a meeting in which Rhoda Garrett read a paper about suffrage. In 1874 and 1878 Reading Town Hall played host to further meetings in which George Palmer attended both. 



By 1881, a conference on the subject of extending suffrage to women householders was hosted by the Reading Liberal club, and in 1887 Millicent Fawcett and Florence Balgarnie - both of whom were suffragette icons - came to speak in Reading. 


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Suffragettes didn't have a following of significant presence in Reading until 1907 when the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies formed their own group within Reading. 



Shortly after 1908, the Women's Social and Political Union opened in Reading, with Emmeline Pankhurst launching the first meeting at St Mary's Butts. Both groups began to sell women's suffrage literature to the people of Reading from shops their own shops. 



The WSPU campaign focused intensely on female workers at Reading's famous biscuit factories which quickly lead to the founding of a group for working men who supported universal suffrage. 



Berkshire was typically considered to be very Anti-Suffrage as a region due to Lady Wantage's influence, who was president of the North Berks branch of the Anti-Suffrage League at the time. Despite all this, Reading remained a hot-spot for suffrage activity. 




Reading was no exception to campaign of militant suffragettes who allegedly targeted a church in Wargrave in 1914. On June the 1st, Wargrave's parish church was set ablaze and was almost completely destroyed. Not long afterwards, the police claimed the arson attack was the work of suffragettes as postcards accusing the authorities of inflicting torture upon women were found near the church. 

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Wargrave was not the only target on June 1st however, a house in Windsor was also set on fire and another similar attack was made on a home in High Wycombe in the following days. Although the authorities and anti-suffrage's alike, blamed suffragettes for the arson, no conclusive evidence to support these claims was ever found. 



Despite all the opposition, the Suffrage movement made massive progress during the First World War during which most suffragettes pledged their service to help the war effort, which led to all women over the age of 30 being given the right to vote at the wars conclusion in 1918. 



No-one should have to fight for equal rights, but unfortunately we live in a world where brave people have no choice but to do exactly that. Many suffragettes fought for rights and equality they never even got to experience themselves, and for that they are owed thanks and celebration for their achievements and resilience. 



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