The Appeal of Womanhood: British Women Against the Vote, 1880-1918

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Marc Baer, Hope College

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The 1880s saw a movement in Britain that focused on the “New Woman.” In turn this engendered fear that as women became more prominent in society, seeking not only political equality but increased leisure and luxury they would move away from their traditional motherly duties. As pro-suffrage groups began to form in the late 19th century, they were countered by anti-suffrage groups such as the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League. Female anti-suffragists held strongly to their belief that women were in charge of the home sphere, which included familial duties as well as local philanthropy. It is for this reason that the anti-suffragists have been thought to be anti-feminist. However, the calling to be good mothers and wives was perceived as invaluable to the home front as well as the empire. The feminist ideal which female anti-suffragists embraced was not the more socially-liberating version in which women abandoned their motherly duties in pursuit of other interests. Rather, it was the feminism that upheld the essence of femininity—to fulfill God’s plan to be nurturers and supporters of the family who would carry on the idea of British exceptionalism in all aspects of public life. This research explains the development of suffrage opposition groups, their arguments against women’s enfranchisement, and the actions they took in order to gain support for their cause.

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