02/09 – The Mud March

A period photograph of the Mud March, showing the various classes of women that took part in the infamous Mud March of 1907. (Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1907, three thousand women from all facets of British society took part in a march through London to agitate for suffrage (the right to vote). Organized by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), the event came to be known as the Mud March due to the awful weather that occurred that day. At the time, suffragette movements were usually split between those who wished to gain the vote through constitutional means, and those who favoured a more “disruptive” approach; but for the Mud March, women from both sides came together in solidarity. Although the march failed in its goal of bringing about immediate suffrage, it helped bring attention to the cause and galvanized regular women to action.

Emmeline Pankhurst – one of the Mud March’s organizers, and an integral member of the suffragette movement – is arrested sometimes before WW1 in London. (Flickr)

According to The Times, the Mud March drew an unusually mixed crowd: upper class women mixed with blue collar women, a rare event in the strictly classist environment of early 20th century London. Many political leaders were impressed by the lack of “…attempts to bash policemen’s helmets… or utter piercing war cries…” and soon, a bill was proposed by MP Willoughby Dickinson. Known as the Suffragette Bill of 1907, the legislation failed due to its lack of consideration for the working classes (only wealthy, property-owning women would gain the vote) and opposition from Dickinson’s fellow MPs.

Suffragette groups making their voices heard at a British election, in 1908. (Wikimedia Commons)

In response, the relatively united suffragette groups began engaging directly with political candidates during local elections in an effort to force change. The biggest change occurred, arguably, with the advent of WW1 when millions of women entered the male-dominated workforce for the first time. Soon after armistice, a bill was passed in 1919 that began the process of enfranchising British women of all classes. Suffragettes around the world took notice, and by the mid 1940s, most Western democracies enjoyed full voting rights for women.

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