National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies

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1913 NUWSS poster showing the strength of its organisation

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.

Political bias

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

Activities after World War I

In 1919, the NUWSS renamed itself as the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship and continued under the leadership of Eleanor Rathbone. It focused on a campaign to equalise suffrage, which was achieved in 1928.[3] It then split into two groups, the National Council for Equal Citizenship, a short-lived group which focused on other equal rights campaigns, and the Union of Townswomen's Guilds, which focused on educational and welfare provision for women.[4]


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.

See also

Notable members of NUWSS


  1. ^ Roberts, Martin (2001). Britain 1846 - 1964 : the challenge of change. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0-19-913373-4. 
  2. ^ Smith, Harold L. The British Women's Suffrage Campaign, 1866-1928. Seminar studies in history. London: Longman, 1998.
  3. ^ Harold L. Smith, The British Women's Suffrage Campaign 1866-1928 (2nd Ed), p.4
  4. ^ Alyson Brown and David Barrett, Knowledge of Evil, p.93

Further reading

  • 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.
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