National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies
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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
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 more than 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 the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU, the "suffragettes"), who wished to undertake more militant action, split from the NUWSS. Nevertheless, the group continued to grow, and by 1914 it had in excess of 500 branches throughout the country, with more than 100,000 members. Many, but by no means all, of the members were middle class, and some were working class. Unlike the WSPU, the group had male members.
For the 1906 general election, the group formed committees in each constituency to persuade local parties to select pro-suffrage candidates.
The NUWSS organized its first large, open-air procession which came to be known as the Mud March on 7 February 1907.
Miss Fawcett said in a speech in 1911 that their movement was "like a glacier; slow moving but unstoppable".
Up to 1912 the NUWSS was not allied with any party, but campaigned 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 on the nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party for a majority and was insistent that time was given instead to the passage of another Irish Home Rule bill and the Unionist Speaker, Sir James Lowther, opposed votes for women. 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 did not include extension of the franchise for women after a campaign in the north west of England northwest effectively changed opinion. The party consistently supported women's suffrage in the years before the war.
Fawcett, a Liberal, became infuriated with the party's delaying tactics and helped Labour candidates against Liberals at election time. In 1912 the NUWSS established the Election Fighting Fund committee (EFF) headed by Catherine Marshall. The committee 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 remaining weak.
NUWSS during World War I
The NUWSS was split between the majority that supported war and the minority who opposed it. During the war the group set up an employment register so that the jobs of those who were serving could be filled. The NUWSS financed women's hospital units employing only female doctors and nurses that served during World War I in France.
The NUWSS supported the women's suffrage bill agreed by a speakers conference even though it did not grant the equal suffrage for which the organisation had campaigned.
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 A collection of NUWSS material is also held by the John Rylands Library, Manchester, ref. NUWS.
- Women's suffrage in the United Kingdom
- The Women's Library (London) – as well as the NUWSS archive the Library has extensive suffrage holdings
- List of suffragists and suffragettes
- List of women's rights activists
- List of women's rights organisations
- Timeline of women's suffrage
- Women's suffrage organisations
- Liverpool Women's Suffrage Society
Notable members of NUWSS
- 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.