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The Suffragette

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"We're clearly soldiers in petticoats
And dauntless crusaders for woman's votes
Though we adore men individually
We agree that as a group they're rather stupid
Cast off the shackles of yesterday
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus:
'Well done, Sister Suffragette!'"
— "Sister Suffragette", Mary Poppins

The Suffragette is a woman who fights for women's right to vote in public political elections.

She's usually an educated, spirited, independent woman with progressive opinions. She's aware that men don't perceive women as their intellectual equals. The Suffragette knows women are diminished, oppressed and patronised. She's willing to fight not only for herself, but especially for her sisters. She wants, above all, equality.

At first, the Suffragette's fight is peaceful. She enjoys discussing her ideas, she gladly crosses swords with people who are opposed and she loves when she convinces someone to join her cause. She's likely to join a group of women of the same persuasion. They write and handout pamphlets or carry placards and banners. However, their peaceful political activism leads nowhere. Now Suffragettes fight with civil disobedience. Women start organizing noisy rallies, they chain themselves to iron railings and acts of vandalism like breaking windows are fair game. A particularly daredevil or desperate Suffragette might endanger her life and die a martyr. At this point, Suffragettes are considered militant and violent. They often get arrested and put in prison. Many of them go on hunger strike and are force-fed. It ain't pretty. Suffragettes often sacrifice their personal happiness, love or family life for the cause. But they persist — because they fight for their daughters and the next generations of women.

Suffragettes often wear white delicate dresses adorned with purple and green sashes. It's important to be feminine in their appearance, as the opposition likes to render them as mannish. However, some Suffragettes couldn't care less what men think, especially about their appearance.

Suffragettes in fiction set in the Victorian period are those who argue their case and fight in the intellectual way. The militant variant comes in full force in The Edwardian Era. It is a fairly popular idea how to portray women in works set in the past as the audience usually find their cause worthy, just and interesting. Some older works however might sneer on their fight as unnecessary, unnatural and affected, and it might be implied that women should care about more important things in life and leave politicking to men.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the suffragettes, mostly caused by bias towards them. A good example is people saying something like "They were political prisoners, yet despite this, they were unfairly treated like common criminals by the big bad authorities". In reality, whilst the suffragettes viewed themselves as political prisoners, they were literally in prison for common crimes (such as vandalism and arson). In other words, they literally were common criminals, albeit ones with political motivation for committing crimes.

Emmeline Pankhurst was the British leader of the campaign and she usually gets at least a shout-out, or she appears as a Historical Domain Character. See also our useful notes on Feminism. For the general trope about suffrage, see Suffrage and Political Liberation.

Related tropes:

  • Dry Crusader note 
  • The Flapper note 
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified note 
  • Soapbox Sadie note 
  • Spirited Young Lady note 
  • Stay in the Kitchen note 
  • Straw Feminist note 
  • Slave Liberation note 


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    Fan Works 
  • In the Discworld's expanded universe, Mariella Smith-Rhodes lives in a country that believes in open, free, democratic, elections. Provided you are a white, male, property owner. Mariella considers that getting the vote for women is a longer-term goal. In the short term, she uses lessons in Political Science she got from Lady T'Malia at the Assassins' School in Ankh-Morpork. Faced with getting the outside candidate, her cousin, elected as local MP, Mariella calls together the wives and daughters of the sleepy constituency of Bitterfontein. She reminds them that while only their husbands and fathers can vote, that is a vote cast on behalf of the entire family. It is reasonable, ladies, that we have a say in how it is cast. We all know Julian Smith-Rhodes is the best candidate and his election will benefit everybody. I want you to go home and raise this reasonable point with the men, today, tomorrow and every day till the vote is cast. Sure enough, Mariella's form of suffragette agitation gets her cousin Julian elected as local MP. note 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Great Race. Maggie DuBois (Natalie Wood) is a suffragette who wants to become the first female reporter for the New York Sentinel newspaper in order to promote women's rights, including the right to vote. She joins the race in order to get a great story and prove herself.
  • Hysteria: Charlotte believes in equal rights regardless of class and gender. Some characters consider her demands that women ought to be allowed to vote and that even poor people should get education and healthcare outlandish and crazy. The film is set in late Victorian period.
  • Winifred Banks (Glynis Johns) from Mary Poppins, the children's mother, is part of the "Sister Suffragette" group in the film's setting of 1910, and is often portrayed as often-distracted and too busy to take care of her family. She even gets a musical number about it! This was a new creation of the film, added specifically because the filmmakers looked at the original Mary Poppins books and wondered why a housewife would even need a nanny if she didn't have a day job or some kind of hobby to occupy her time.
  • Suffragette: A full film of them. They try protesting peacefully, but are ignored. It's only when they begin 'civil unrest' (actually destruction of property), they start to be taken seriously. Suffragettes are portrayed as determinators: they are arrested multiple times, Emily Davison throws herself in front of a horse and dies, they get beaten by police, they are force-fed (horrible torture) and they must sacrifice their family life. Emmeline Pankhurst appears as a Historical Domain Character, played by Meryl Streep.
  • Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines: Patricia Rawnsley, (Sarah Miles) the daughter of Lord Rawnsley. She has dreams of flying, and wants to fulfil them at any cost. She has a secret hideout on her father's estate, in which she hides her motorcycle, suffragette posters ("Give Women the Vote") and photos, and her tomboy clothes.
  • Wonder Woman: Etta Candy (Lucy Davis) tries to defend her position to Diana Prince in British Society by saying they will get the right to vote... someday.
  • In My Fair Lady, a suffragette march briefly comes through during the "With a Little Bit of Luck" number. Alfred marches alongside them for a bit, presumably mocking them given his character.
  • In Mrs. Santa Claus, the title character gets stranded in Manhattan in 1910. One of the characters is a young suffragette named Sadie Lowenstein, who shouts at passersby while standing atop a soapbox. That is to say, she is literally a Soapbox Sadie, a name that she is called by in-universe. Mrs. Claus convinces her to soften her approach, and it proves more successful at winning converts to the cause. They get a musical number, "Suffragette March", which is actually a Triumphant Reprise of Mrs. Claus' "I Want" Song.
  • The 2004 Made-for-TV Movie Iron Jawed Angels is about the women's suffrage movement in the U.S.

  • The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry is set in 1893. Martha, Cora Seaborne's companion and nanny/governess to her son Francis, is a suffragette and campaigner for workers' rights. She's campaigning for London's poverty-stricken inhabitants and she doesn't like how politicians like to render them "deserving" or "undeserving". Cora says that had Martha been a man, she would have been in the Parliament. She's very persuasive and actually gets some wealthy men on her bandwagon and also inspires young Joanna Ransome.
  • In Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Kathie is not an activist herself but is a believer in the cause; among the things about her that bemuse Chips when they first meet (in 1896), along with her newfangled bicycle and the fact that she's better at mountain-climbing than him, is her belief that women should have access to university educations and the vote.
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 takes place in an Alternate History Cairo of 1912, with the action unfolding against the backdrop of a national vote to grant women suffrage. As Agents Hamed and Onsi investigate a mysterious specter haunting the public transportation system, crowds of Suffragettes hold multiple demonstrations at the tram station. The Agents also find themselves in the Cairo headquarters of the women's' suffrage movement (since Sheikha Nadiyaa's office is located in the same building).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Cold Case: The oldest cold case that Lilly and her team handled is set in 1919 in the episode "Torn" which involves the murder of Frances Stone, a suffragette who was in conflict with her family for joining the movement. She and her family maid, Phil, are inspired to join the movement after Frances saw that Phil had black eye courtesy of her husband, who disapproved of her reading a pamphlet given by the suffragettes. However, Frances' mother tries to appeal to her that giving women the right to vote would to lead to the Prohibition being enacted, which would shut down the family's brewing business. Despite being briefly imprisoned and threatened to be disowned by her father, Frances sticks to her beliefs, leading to a heated argument with her mother, who accidentally caused her to fall off the second-story balcony, killing her.
  • Downton Abbey, set in the late Edwardian period on the brink of WWI:
    • Lady Sybil is a politically active young woman, liberal and radical in her opinions. She's a socialist at heart and supports woman's suffrage. She also cares on a personal level. She befriends housemaid Gwen Dawson who is determined not to follow the prescribed path for women of her social status and strives to make a better life for herself. Lady Sybil helps her.
    • After WWI, Lady Edith finds out she's a worthy person, too, and finds her cause. She takes an interest in writing about her support for women's suffrage and other political issues to a newspaper.
    • Gwen Dawson, now Mrs Harding, appears in season 6. It is revealed that she has made a successful career in government alongside her husband John, and helps to support young women from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds to progress their careers. John is named as a trustee at a woman's college for middle-class girls who want to do other jobs aside from service.
  • Horrible Histories: In "The Suffragette Song", suffragettes sing a summarised version of history of the Woman's Suffrage Movement in Britain.
    • Milli Fawcett is identified as a founder of their cause who started the battle for women's rights. Argued that the government should change the laws.
    • Emmeline Pankhurst is their new leader for peaceful protests that started in 1903, but they got no reaction, so they needed "drastic action".
    • Miss Davison and her heroic sacrifice gets a shout-out. (Though in all probability she didn't deliberately jump in front of the horse and was in fact trying to attach a "Votes for women" badge onto the King's horse as a statement. Unfortunately it went wrong and she ended up getting trampled to death by horses.)
      Miss Davison please take the mic
      We became more extreme
      Derby day June 13
      In front of king and queen
      Committed sacrifice supreme
      Crept unseen between the team
      And crowds watching the race
      And threw myself under a horse
      To try and make our case
      Became a famous martyr
  • Murdoch Mysteries:
    • Dr Julia Ogden is a proto-feminist and she's a successful and respected medical doctor in late Victorian Canada, so she's used to fighting for her own and women's rights. She's active politically, she's always happy to speak for women's right to contraception (illegal at the time). She's willing to be arrested and wants to argue her case in front of a judge. (Murdoch lets her go and persuades her not to, as she would be convicted). She considers running in the Provincial Elections, but declines because of her husband's career who nevertheless would support her if she chose to run.
    • Dr Emily Grace, Dr Ogden's protégé, gladly joins the women's movement. She's one of the most spirited and eager to fight or throw stones.
    • Margaret Haile, a Historical Domain Character, is a Canadian socialist, teacher and journalist who was active in the socialist movement. She appears in the arch where Julia and Emily join the movement of women's suffrage. She is chosen as the ladies' candidate to run in the 1902 Ontario Provincial Election. When some men see their opposition and how much they must struggle, she gets quite a few votes. 79 actually.
    • Lilian Moss, Dr Emily Grace's friend and eventual Love Interest. They bond over their interest in women's suffrage and both are politically active in the campaign. She persuades her lover Emily to leave Toronto for London and join Mrs Pankhurst's group.
    • Miss Clara Brett Martin (a Historical Domain Character) is the first female lawyer in all of the British Empire. She argues at court when Margaret Haile was unfairly taken off the list of candidate. She is organizing the suffragette rally in "Troublemakers" and gets injured in the explosion.
    • Effie Newsome is a bright young woman studying law. She's seen at a suffrage event in "Troublemakers" wearing a sash which reads Votes for Women.
    • "Troublemakers": Dr Katherine Talbot is a medical doctor and a suffragist who has worked with Emily Pankhurst in London. It turns out they had a falling out because Dr Talbot wants to use more aggressive methods in their fight. Dr Talbot is connected to the Orsini bomb attack. She wanted to use it to make men feel guilty and gain sympathy for women.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes 1954 episode "The Case of the Careless Suffragette", a suffragette acquires a small bomb to blow up a lion statue on Trafalgar Square. Unfortunately, the bomb is stolen and used in a murder.
  • The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: While in London in 1916, Indiana briefly dated a suffragette named Vicky and attended some rallies before going off to war.

    Video Games 
  • Red Dead Redemption 2: The player character encounters Dorothea Wicklow who is a Suffragette in Saint Denis. She protests peacefully, has a placard and says various lines about how women deserve the right to vote as much as men or that she'll only shut up once she can vote. See here and here.

    Web Videos 
  • The Victorian Way: Mrs Warwick, the housekeeper, is a suffragette. She mentions to the cook Mrs Crocombe that she has written to their local Member of Parliament and she hopes that he will represent their views in the next debate on women's suffrage. She says Lady Braybrooke is an example to follow because she is interested in the local affairs and has done many charitable activities, so it's safe to assume that Lady Braybrooke supports women's suffrage, too.

    Western Animation 
  • The Schoolhouse Rock! song "Sufferin' 'Til Suffrage" teaches about and celebrates the women's suffrage movement in the U.S.
  • The Tuttle Twins episode "Dumpsters and Disobedience" features Susan B. Anthony engaging in civil disobedience by voting in a federal election, which was prohibited in her state at the time.