Suffrage Societies Database Guide

Tara Morton
Procession of the religious leagues for women's suffrage, c.1914.

The database of suffrage campaigners features more than 40 different suffrage societies: from the well-known NUWSS and WSPU to smaller local organisations, trade affiliations and religious groups.

Suffrage database researcher Tara Morton outlines the different societies in the guidance below, with simplified and detailed versions available for students and teachers. Information is based on Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide, 1866–1928 (1999).

[1866] LPPC – London Provisional Petition Committee
Created to continue the petitioning tactics from the 1866 Petition, it included Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies and Helen Taylor. A more formal successor emerged from it – the Enfranchisement of Women Committee (EWC).

[1866] EWC – Enfranchisement of Women Committee
Founded in November 1866, the committee’s objective was to abolish the legal blocks to women voting. It was to achieve this through continued petitioning of Parliament. The committee was formally dissolved in July 1867 and relaunched as the London National Society for Women’s Suffrage (LNSWS).

[1867] LNSWS – London National Society for Women’s Suffrage
Succeeded the EWC in 1867 to spread information about women’s demands for the vote as widely as possible. It was responsible for publishing several pamphlets on the issue. A breakaway society called the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage (CCNSWS) was formed, but the LNSWS continued as a smaller society. By 1877, they had re-joined.

[1867] NSWS – National Society for Women’s Suffrage
Formed in 1867 to bring together established societies in London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Dublin. The following year, societies in Bristol and Birmingham were founded. The society organised 2,000 signatures in 1871. A weak presence in London led MP Jacob Bright and others to form the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage (CCNSWS).

[1868] BWNSWS – Bristol and West of England National Women’s Suffrage Society
Formed in 1868 as the Bristol and Clifton Branch of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, and renamed in 1869. The BWNSWS was closely allied to the Liberal Party and worked to reform the party’s attitude to women’s suffrage. In 1898, the society joined the NUWSS.

[1867] ENSWS – Edinburgh National Society for Women’s Suffrage
Formed in 1867, the ENSWS worked with the London and Manchester branches of the NSWS. In 1875, the society sent 16,678 signatures on a petition to Parliament and, between 1867 and 1876, was responsible for over two million of the total signatures put before Parliament. In 1897, it joined the NUWSS.

[1868] BNSWS – Birmingham National Society for Women’s Suffrage
Founded as part of the NSWS in Birmingham in 1868. In 1872, the society linked with the CCNSWS and, later, with the help of the NUWSS, formed multiple local branches between 1901 and 1909. By 1912, it had around 700 members, and in 1913 became part of the Midland (West) Federation of the NUWSS.

[1867] MNSWS – Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage
The Manchester society came out of the earlier Manchester Committee for the Enfranchisement of Women and, in 1867, joined the NSWS along with the Edinburgh and London committees. It thought petitions a waste of time unless they were specifically generated to support a proposed suffrage bill and also felt that it was not being adequately represented in London by the LNSWS; it therefore pushed for a new Central Committee in London, which met in 1872: the Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage (CCNSWS). In 1895, the MNSWS linked with the new CCNSWS and, in 1897, joined the NUWSS. In 1911, it changed its name again to the Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage (MSWS).

[1872] CCNSWS – Central Committee of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage
Meeting in 1872, the aim of the CCNSWS was to better represent the interests in London of all the other NSWS regional societies. This caused tension with the existing LNSWS. In 1888, the CCNSWS split in two over how closely it should ally itself to political parties. One member of the CCNSWS who wished the society to remain above party politics was Millicent Fawcett. She led a breakaway faction. Confusingly, it was Millicent Fawcett’s breakaway group that kept the name CCNSWS, while those left behind adopted a new, if very similar-sounding, name, the Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage (CNSWS).

[1888] CNSWS – Central National Society for Women’s Suffrage
The new name adopted by those that had been part of the former CCNSWS but refused to join a breakaway faction led by Millicent Fawcett. In 1895 to 1896, the CNSWS worked with the CCNSWS on a Special Appeals Committee set up to support a ‘Parliamentary Franchise (Extension to Women) Bill’ of 1896. This preliminary co- operation lay the ground for the later formation of the NUWSS in 1897. That year, the CNSWS changed its name once more to the Central and Western Society for Women’s Suffrage (CWSWS).;

[1897] NESWS – North of England Society for Women’s Suffrage
The name adopted in 1897 by the existing Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage (MNSWS). Two working-class campaigners, Esther Roper and Eva Gore- Booth, worked hard to drum up support for the society among working communities in the north of England. In 1901 and 1902, a petition was presented signed by 66,835 women factory workers.

[1905] NIPWSS – National Industrial and Professional Women’s Suffrage Society
A breakaway organisation from the NESWS. Its committee members included Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth. The society saw votes for women as a way of gaining industrial and economic rights for women.

[1911] MSWS – Manchester Society for Women’s Suffrage
The name given to the North of England Society for Women’s Suffrage (NESWS) when it became part of the Manchester and District Federation of the NUWSS. The Manchester society continued working until January 1919.

[1889] WFraL – Women’s Franchise League
Founded in 1889 by some members of the MNSWS to gain all women the right to vote. They thought that all women, irrespective of marital status, should be included in any demands for female suffrage. It also held forward-looking views on other issues, such as reforming marriage laws, encouraging co-education, trade unionism and the abolition of the House of Lords. In 1891, one of its founders, Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy, left and formed the Women’s Emancipation Union (WEU).

[1891] WEU – Women’s Emancipation Union
A group of workers formed to gain women their social, political and economic independence. It was formed in 1891 as a breakaway group from the WFraL by Elizabeth Wolstenholme-Elmy. The word ‘workers’ was used to make clear to those joining that they would be expected to ‘work’ for the society and be salaried once sufficient funds were raised. The WEU applied pressure to over 400 MPs in 1894 to support the allowance of duly qualified married women to gain the local government vote. During its lifetime, the WEU distributed over 200,000 pamphlets, but it always suffered from a lack of funds. In 1899, the society was forced to hold its last meeting.

[1900] CSWS – Central Society for Women’s Suffrage
Formed in 1900, from the Central and Western Society for Women’s Suffrage and the Central and East of England Society for Women’s Suffrage. It focused entirely on working for the vote. In 1907, it changed its name once more to the London Society for Women’s Suffrage (LSWS).

[1907] LSWS – London Society for Women’s Suffrage
Formed in 1907, the LSWS had 62 branches in London and was instrumental in organising the first large women’s suffrage demonstration held by the NUWSS in February 1907. It also played a substantial role in the NUWSS Pilgrimage in 1913 and many other public events.

[1896] UPS – Union of Practical Suffragists
Formed in 1896 from within the Women’s Liberal Federation, which worked to support the governing Liberal Party. It was formed to deter Women’s Liberal Associations from supporting anti-suffrage politicians. The UPS was dissolved in 1903 when the Women’s Liberal Federation finally agreed to give its support only to Liberal candidates supporting women’s suffrage.

[1897] NUWSS – National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies
Formed in 1897, bringing together around 500 suffrage societies across the country. The NUWSS led the ‘Mud March’ in 1907 and held later and much larger suffrage processions through the streets of London. The society petitioned, lobbied and pressurised MPs and was also very effective at outreach programmes, such as summer schools and other events, including the 1913 ‘Pilgrimage’. In 1912, the NUWSS gave up on the Liberal Party and helped Labour Party members to win local and parliamentary seats through its Election Fighting Fund. Although the NUWSS was law-abiding, it had initially supported the WSPU. However, this support did not last. When the partial vote was granted to women in 1918, the NUWSS changed its name to the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship and worked for the equality of men and women more broadly.

[1903] WSPU – Women’s Social and Political Union
Founded in Manchester in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst and several other women who had belonged to the Independent Labour Party (ILP). WSPU militancy began with members disrupting ministers’ speeches, which captured press attention. In 1906, the WSPU moved its headquarters to London and engaged in further headline- grabbing activities and ‘spectacular’ politics. It held mass processions and demonstrations, carried out ‘raids’ on the House of Commons and ‘confronted’ cabinet ministers, leading to arrests. In 1907, a split occurred, resulting in the formation of the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). By 1911, WSPU militancy was escalating after many broken government promises.

[1907] YHB – Young Hot Bloods
Founded in 1907 by a younger group of militant suffragettes within the WSPU, who were all under 30 years old. They pledged to undertake ‘danger duty’ on behalf of the WSPU and the cause. The YHB included Grace Roe, Jessie Kenney, Elsie Howey and Vera Wentworth (also known as Jessie Spink).

[1907] WFL – Women’s Freedom League
Formed in 1907 as a breakaway society from within the WSPU, led chiefly by Charlotte Despard and Teresa Billington-Greig. The split occurred because some women wished to keep the WSPU’s democratic constitution, whereas the Pankhursts believed that this would limit their plans for militant action. The WFL kept close ties to the Labour Party and the Labour movement.

[1908] CUWFA – Conservative and Unionist Women’s Franchise Association
Founded in 1908 to unite pro-suffrage Conservatives and Unionists in supporting an extension of the franchise to propertied women.

[1909] WTRL – Women’s Tax Resistance League
Formed in 1909 to conduct a campaign of civil disobedience and constitutional militancy, focused around the non-payment of taxes. The society motto was simply ‘No Vote, No Tax!’. Some of its members were arrested and imprisoned for non-payment of taxes and/or had their goods confiscated.

[1910] MPU – Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement
Founded in 1910 by Victor Duval as a male counterpart to the WSPU, to tackle ‘the determined indifference of the government’ to women’s suffrage. The MPU established many branches across the country, and in 1914 organised a ‘Suffrage Speakers Defence Core’ to protect WSPU speakers from public assaults and arrest by police.

[1907] MLWS – Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage
Founded in 1907 by Herbert Jacobs to channel men’s support in obtaining the vote for women. The MLWS focused on doing propaganda work – for example, sending letters to MPs and Parliamentary candidates arguing for women’s suffrage and holding suffrage meetings.

[1913] NMFWS – Northern Men’s Federation for Women’s Suffrage
Founded by Maud Arncliffe Sennett in 1913, its policy was to peacefully oppose any anti-suffrage government. The NMFWS continued working for women’s enfranchisement during the First World War and held a large demonstration in Edinburgh in 1915 to publicise women’s contribution to the war effort.

[1914] ELFS – East London Federation of Suffragettes
Formed in 1914 as a breakaway group from the WSPU by Sylvia Pankhurst. ELFS emerged from Sylvia’s earlier work with East End women, many of whom were WSPU members. In 1914, Emmeline and Christabel asked Sylvia to separate her Federation from the WSPU and it became the independent ELFS.

[1909] CLWS – Church League for Women’s Suffrage
Founded in 1909 on a non-party basis to unite church- goers in securing the vote for women in both Church and State. The methods of the CLWS were described as devotional and educational. The CLWS produced several pamphlets about why the Church should support the women’s suffrage cause.

[1911] CWSS – Catholic Women’s Suffrage Society
Formed in 1911 to unite all Catholics in order to secure the vote for women. It educated those within the Catholic Church on the merits of women’s suffrage.

[1912] JLWS – Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage
Founded in 1912 to bring together Jewish suffragists to demand the vote for women. The JLWS performed propaganda work along law-abiding lines.

[1910] FCLWS – Free Church League for Women’s Suffrage
Founded in 1910, the League’s object was to support women’s suffrage through religious and educational means.

[1910] NCSWS – New Constitutional Society for Women’s Suffrage
Founded after the general election in 1910, the NCSWS believed in the WSPU’s policy of acting against all Liberal Party candidates in by-elections, but disagreed (though not publicly) with its militant methods.

[1908] AFL – Actresses Franchise League
Formed in 1908, the AFL was open to anyone involved in the theatrical profession. It used its members’ skills to hold lively meetings, supply entertainers for suffrage events, put on suffrage plays and processions, and sell suffrage literature to raise funds for the cause. The AFL established branches across the country and its members included some of the most famous stage performers of the day, such as Ellen Terry, Lillie Langtry and Violet Vanbrugh.;

[1909] SA – Suffrage Atelier
Founded in 1909 as an ‘Arts and Crafts Society’ working for women’s suffrage. The SA used traditional handicraft methods to produce all its suffrage artwork, which it sold to various suffrage societies and supporters. It also trained its artists in unfamiliar design and printing techniques to help them find better employment.

[1911] CSU – Cymric Suffrage Union
A Welsh suffrage society founded by Edith Mansell- Moullin in 1911. It sought to unite Welsh women and men in the fight for the vote and to put it before all other causes. As well as being active in Wales, the CSU campaigned in London. The society faded away when Edith Mansell-Moullin left, taking her followers with her to set up a more militant wing, the FCSU.

[1912] FCSU – Forward Cymric Suffrage Union
Formed in 1912 as a breakaway society from the CSU by its original founder, Edith Mansell-Moullin. The society pledged itself to militant methods, to work for no political party, and to act against any government and its candidates that refused women the vote. The FCSU campaigned in Wales and in London, and gave its support to Sylvia Pankhurst’s working-class ELFS.

[1902] GWSAWS – Glasgow and West of Scotland Association for Women’s Suffrage
Had its roots in the earlier Glasgow branch of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage (see NSWS) and was reformed as the GWSAWS in 1902. The GWSAWS was strongly supportive of the Liberal Party and voted against the NUWSS proposal in 1912 to actively support Labour Party candidates instead.

[1914] US – United Suffragists
Formed in early 1914 and was open to men and women, to non-militants and militants, although most of its early members had been leading supporters of the WSPU. Former WSPU members Emmeline and Frederick Pethick-Lawrence gave the US what had been the WSPU’s Votes for Women newspaper, which they had founded and edited together.

[1915] SWSPU – Suffragettes of the WSPU
Formed during the First World War in 1915, when several suffragettes, who were dismayed at the abandonment of the cause by the WSPU leadership, set up a new society.;

[1916] IWSPU – Independent WSPU
Formed during the First World War in 1916, as a breakaway group from the WSPU. Central members of the IWSPU included Charlotte Marsh, Dorothea Rock and Dorothy Evans.

[1911] NPL – National Political League
The League was founded in 1911 and aimed to forward many pressing social and political reforms. However, it saw the extension of the vote to women as a necessary first step for any other reforms. The NPL welcomed female and male members and, by 1913, it had already begun collecting information and statistics on social and industrial conditions for future reform efforts. During the War, it organised the National Land Council to train women to work the land.

[1912] FCSS – Federated Council of Suffrage Societies
Founded in 1912 to set up a united policy and action across suffrage societies. By 1915, the Council had 22 affiliated suffrage societies, including the Actresses Franchise League, the Jewish League for Women’s Suffrage and the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.