National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies

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1913 NUWSS poster showing the strength of its organisation

The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), also known as the Suffragists (not to be confused with the suffragettes) was an organisation of women's suffrage societies in the United Kingdom.

Formation and campaigning[edit]

Millicent Fawcett

The group was founded in 1897 by the merger of the National Central Society for Women's Suffrage and the Central Committee, National Society for Women's Suffrage, the groups having originally split in 1888.

The groups united under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett, who was the president of the society for over twenty years. The organisation was democratic, aiming to achieve women's suffrage through peaceful and legal means, in particular by introducing Parliamentary Bills and holding meetings to explain and promote their aims.

In 1903, NUWSS suffered the split of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU, the "suffragettes"), who wished to undertake more militant action. Nevertheless, the group continued to grow, and by 1914 there were in excess of 500 branches throughout the country, with over 100,000 members. Many, but by no means all, of the members were middle class, with some of the working class. Unlike the WSPU, their group also had some male members.

For the 1906 UK general election, the group formed committees in each constituency to persuade local parties to select pro-suffrage candidates.

The NUWSS organised the Mud March of 7 February 1907, its first large, open-air procession.

Miss Fawcett said in a speech in 1911 that their movement was "like a glacier; slow moving but unstoppable".

Political Bias[edit]

Up to 1912 the NUWSS were not officially allied with any party, but would campaign in support of individual election candidates who supported votes for women. In parliament, the Conciliation Bill of 1911 helped to change this position. The bill had majority support but was frustrated by insufficient time being given to pass it. The Liberal government relied upon the nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party for a majority and they were insistent that time was given instead to the passage of another Irish Home Rule bill. In addition the Unionist Speaker Sir James Lowther opposed votes for women.[1] Consequently, it did not become law.

Labour from 1903 was tied into an alliance with the Liberals and its leadership was divided on the issue of female emancipation. Although, the 1913 Party Conference agreed to oppose any franchise bill that didn’t include extension of the franchise for women as well. This is because of a northwest campaign that effectively changed opinion. This party consistently supported women's suffrage in the years before the war.

Fawcett, although Liberal herself, was becoming infuriated with the Liberals' delaying tactics and her response was to help Labour candidates against Liberal ones at election time. In 1912 the NUWSS established the Election Fighting Fund committee (EFF) that was headed by Catherine Marshall. This backed Labour and in 1913–14 the EFF intervened in four by-elections and although Labour won none, the Liberals lost two.

The NUWSS, by allying itself with Labour, attempted to put pressure on the Liberals, because the Liberals' political future depended on Labour staying weak.

NUWSS during World War I[edit]

The NUWSS were split between the majority that supported war and the minority who were opposed. During the war the group set up an employment register so that the jobs of those who were serving could be filled. The NUWSS also financed women's hospital units, these employed only female doctors and nurses. Such groups served during World War I in France.

They agreed to the women's suffrage bill agreed by a speakers conference although it did not grant equal suffrage which is what the organisation campaigned for.


The archives of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies are held at The Women's Library at the Library of the London School of Economics, ref 2NWS

See also[edit]

Notable members of NUWSS[edit]


  1. ^ Roberts, Martin (2001). Britain 1846 - 1964 : the challenge of change. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-19-913373-4. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Hume, Leslie Parker. The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, 1897–1914. Modern British History, 3. New York: Garland, 1982. ISBN 978-0-8240-5167-9.