The following is primary source information on the Suffragette movement now available for research and also education in the form of workshops and virtual classrooms at the British National Archives:

One hundred years ago today, the Suffragettes of the Women’s Social Political Union, armed with stones and hammers, tried to storm Parliament as their campaign for women’s right to vote entered a new, more militant phase.

From 1905 until this time the Suffragettes had held relatively peaceful protests, however in the years that followed 21 November 1911 the levels of violence escalated, from window breaking to major arson attacks. Explore our Metropolitan Police records (Catalogue reference MEPO 2/1488) for details on arrested Suffragettes and the damages.

Records of protest and arrests

The National Archives holds a large collection of records on Suffragettes, many of which contain detailed witness statements, letters of petition and the methods carried out by the Metropolitan Police to arrest those taking part in organised disorders.

Find out more about the police procedures used to arrest Suffragettes (MEPO 2/1438) and to protect polling stations and ballot boxes where the Suffragettes held protests during elections (HO 45/10597/187632). You can also explore records which include complaints of assault against the police (MEPO 3/203).

‘Cat and Mouse’ Act

Many Suffragettes were imprisoned and went on hunger strike when they were not recognised as political offenders – Home Office records contain police memorandums about arrested Suffragettes who were force fed (see for instance HO 144/1205/221873).

Police had no choice but to release Suffragettes who fell ill after going on hunger strike. To deal with the hunger strikes the government passed The 1913 Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health) Act, also known as the ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act (CAB 41/34/9). This act allowed a prisoner who had been on hunger strike to be released from prison until she was well enough to be rearrested and complete her sentence.

Protests were put aside as the women joined in the First World War effort between 1914-18. In 1918, women were able to vote in general elections for the first time.

Learn more with the Education Team

Students can work with primary source material held at The National Archives to understand the impact of militant activities on the Suffragettes’ cause – see our online resources including workshops and virtual classrooms.

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