Women's Suffrage Movement and Perception of Women in Scotland

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Leading up to the 20th century opinions about women in scotland where beginning to change, however it wasn’t until the 20th century that we started to see a considerable improvement in the quality of living for women in Scotland. Due to the question covering such an extensive period of time I will only focus on three aspects over the 20th century which I feel are the most important in expressing the improvement in the quality of lives for women in scotland: The political gain of all women being awarded the vote in 1928, the economic gain as women began to build careers and the social aspect as women gained more freedom in themselves and society towards the end of the 20th century.

Over this time period women’s lives improved to an extent. In modern day women still face discrimination and there are still issues to be dealt with such as the gender pay gap. This essay will argue that quality of life for women in scotland improved; socially, politically and economically to an extent. There was many different groups of women’s suffrage throughout the 1900’s the main two being the WSPU and the NUWSS. The NUWSS- National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society- took a peaceful and non confrontational approach to protesting, unlike the WSPU- Women’s Social and Political Union- who took a militant tactic in protesting for women’s rights, many historians argue that the militant approach was more effective than the NUWSS peaceful protesting. In Lynn Abrams and Eleanor Gordon’s textbook Gender in Scottish history since 1700 it is stated “Scotland as a liberal stronghold was a particular focus for militant campaigning because of its policy of attacking government.”

This statement emphasises that the Scottish campaigners were more likely to take a militant approach. These tactics used by the WSPU included; vandalism, arson, disturbing public meetings. A prime example of this was written in a local news article in April 1913 by the Ayrshire post, reporting members of the WSPU burning stands at the  race course. The women caused £2,000 of damage which is roughly £300,000 in today’s money. The militant approach by Scottish women successfully got the attention of the country, this in turn made it easier to raise necessary funds for the cause, it forced anti suffrage campaigners into a more public stance which highlighted the power of the women’s arguments and most importantly the actions of these campaigners encouraged more women to join the suffrage protests, membership of the WSPU increased by just under 40,00 from 1908 until 1928. The actions of suffrage campaigners slowly forced the government into awarding women equal voting rights and allowing women to stand as candidates in political bodies. In 1918 women over the age of 30 were awarded the right to vote- the representation of the people act 1918- in 1928 all women were able to vote- the representation of the people equal franchise act 1928. Over history it is rare occurrence for a successful political movement to not involve some form of violence, The violent and explosive nature of suffragettes actions demanded response from government and there for played a crucial part in women’s political gain. 

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Although the women’s suffrage played a huge part in women’s political gain It is argued by many historians that the war effort by women in the First World War also played a key role. When war broke out in 1914 thousands of women contributed to the war effort by working in factory’s making shells bombs and guns. During the war period there was considerably less protesting done by women’s suffrage campaigns, many historians argue that women’s contribution to war influenced the 1918 representation of the people act; historian Constance Rover believes that: It was obvious that the campaign would recommence once the war was over if nothing was done to enfranchise women. It would have been extremely embarrassing and probably unpopular to imprison women who had played such an important part in the war effort. The war effort did have an effect on women’s political gain but it is reductive to suggest that the war effort was a main factor in gaining women the vote, it is reasonable to argue the war played a huge factor in gaining women the vote due to the the responsibility women took on in the war. Prime minster Lloyd George stated “women have helped to win the war and without them we could not have done it.’ The prime minster stating this demonstrably emphasises the recognition of women’s contribution, in turn highlighting the absurdity of governmental anti suffrage views. To conclude both the campaign work by women’s suffrage campaigns and the war effort contributed to women’s’ political gain. This improved women’s lives greatly, it gave women a political voice, the right to vote was an important step as it is an underlying influence in all the other aspects of improvement for quality of life for women in the 20th century, with women being able to vote it meant they could vote for parties whose manifestos supported women’s rights, with women gaining places in parliament it led to a push for legislation that supported women politically, socially and economically. 

Another important aspect of improvement is economically. After the first world war and the Representation of the People Act 1918 women grew a new form of independence through their careers. Both the First and second World War had huge impact on women in the work place, men fighting in the war meant women took the jobs the men left behind, this undoubtedly showed women were capable of doing the work that was previously solely preserved for men. As seen in source 1 the sheer velocity of women who became employed due to the war was immense. Industrial work was mostly dominated by men but from 1914-1918 the amount of women who worked in the industrial sector increased by 792,000. The report also highlights that women who worked in domestic services which was in 1914 was dominated by women decreased by 400,000. The over all increase in female employment from 1914-1918 was 1,345,000.

The increase in female employment improved life for women as it gave women a new found freedom and highlighted to government and society women were just as capable as men, something that they hadn’t had the chance to prove before. Although, women proving there capability during the war only increased employment, there was still a huge inequality between men and women in the work place, the marriage bar was put in place to restrict women working from continuing to work after getting married. In October 1946 the marriage bar was abolished in the home civil services. This was an important legislation in the interest of women’s careers, it encouraged women to work even after marriage, tackling the social expectation of men being the bread winners in families. To conclude the abolishment of the marriage bar and the increasing rate of employment due to the first and Second World War offering more job opportunities and economically improved the lives of women as the option of working even after marriage gave women their own income, and giving women the freedom not relying on a man to provide for them. 

A final aspect of improvement for women throughout the 20th century is social improvement. Throughout the 20th century women were seen as inferior to men on a social scale, the implementations of Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976, the abortion act 1967 and the contraception medication provided by the NHS improved life for women socially. Women’s health improved through the social acceptation of contraception and the legalisation of abortion. In 1961 the contraception pill was introduced through the NHS. This allowed women to be sexually active, in this time period it was still frowned upon to have children out of marriage, the contraception pill highlights the social change of women gaining sexual liberation. The abortion act 1967 [footnoteRef:8] Meant that women could have safe abortions through the NHS. This act improved women’s lives as previous to this act many women were having dangerous and illegal abortions, an article written by The Guardian it states that in the years prior to the 1967 act 50-60 women a year were dying due to unsafe abortion.[footnoteRef:9] Therefore this act greatly improved quality of life for women as it reduced the risk of death due to unsafe abortions. The introduction of the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings act 1976 was intended to “provide the police with powers of arrest for the breach of injunction in cases of domestic violence… to make provision for varying rights of occupation where both spouses have the same rights in the matrimonial home; and for purposes connected therewith.’ Ultimately this protected married women against domestic abuse, declaring to society that it is never acceptable to domestically abuse a woman even in the case of marriage. Upon evaluation all of the legislations mentioned bettered women’s lives as they gave women a sense of social liberation, 

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Women’s Suffrage Movement and Perception of Women in Scotland. (2023, March 14). WritingBros. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/womens-suffrage-movement-and-perception-of-women-in-scotland/
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