The British Women's Suffrage Movement and the Practice of Petitioning, 1890-1914

Henry Miller*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Through an examination of the women's suffrage movement, this article reassesses the place of petitioning within late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British political culture. While critical of their Victorian predecessors’ reliance on petitions, the Edwardian women's suffrage movement did not abandon petitioning, but reinvented it. Rather than presenting a polarized view of relations between suffragettes and suffragists, the article shows how both operated on a spectrum of direct action politics through petitioning. Militants and constitutionalists pioneered new, although different, modes of petitioning that underpinned broader repertoires of popular politics, adapting this venerable practice to a nascent mass democracy. The article then situates suffrage campaigners’ reinvention of petitioning within a broader political context. The apparent decline of petitioning, long noted by scholars, is reframed as the waning of the classic model of mass petitioning parliament associated with Victorian pressure groups. The early twentieth century was a crucial period for the reshaping of petitioning as a tool for political participation and expression through myriad subscriptional forms, rather than primarily through the medium of parliamentary petitions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)332-356
Number of pages24
JournalHistorical Journal
Issue number2
Early online date23 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes

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