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Female Anti-Su ragists

It wasn’t just men who fought against female suffrage – in fact, the anti-suffrage campaign was headed by a woman. Jonny Wilkes tells this unlikely tale

THE WOMEN WHO DIDN’T WANT THE VOTE

The writer of a piece in The Times on 27 February 1909 made their position abundantly clear: “Women’s suffrage is a more dangerous leap in the dark because of the vast growth of the Empire, the immense increase of England’s imperial responsibilities, and therewith the increased complexity and risk of the problems which lie before our statesmen.”

These problems, the writer continued, could only be solved by the “labour and special knowledge of men, and where the men who bear the burden ought to be left unhampered by the political inexperience of women”.

Mary Augusta Ward founded the Women’s National Anti-Su rage League
MUSEUM OF LONDON X1, GETTY X2

It was yet another argument voiced by this writer in their years of protesting against women getting the vote. Committed to the idea that the physical and emotional differences between the sexes made women wholly unsuitable for politics, they wrote prolifically, led an anti-suffrage organisation and gave speeches on how the woman’s role should be in the “domestic sphere”, while trying to ignore jeers from suffragettes in the audience.

Those fighting for suffrage expected such rhetoric, such anachronistic attitudes, such socially entrenched opposition to their cause, from stu y, misogynistic men. But the writer in The Times was a woman: Mary Augusta Ward, who somehow campaigned both for social reform and as one of the large number of female anti-suffragists, dedicated to keeping themselves out of the polling booths.

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About History Revealed

In this month's issue… Hitler's rise to power How a failed painter on the fringes of local politics managed to hoodwink a nation and become - against all likelihood - the Fürher. Plus: 250 years of the circus; the Kingmaker's comeuppance in the War of the Roses battle of Barnet; famous folk who died broke in spite of their achievements; women who fought against the suffragette movement; and the strangely enthralling history of the toilet. Watch out for X.