Suffragette Defined

British and American Usage

Poster advertising the Suffragette newspaper, 1912. Artist: Hilda Dallas
Poster advertising the Suffragette newspaper, 1912. Artist: Hilda Dallas. Museum of London/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Definition: Suffragette is a term which was sometimes used for a woman active in the woman suffrage movement.

British Usage

A London newspaper first used the term suffragette. British women in the suffrage movement adopted the term for themselves, though earlier the term they used was "suffragist."  Or, often capitalized, as Suffragette.

The journal of the WPSU, the radical wing of the movement, was called Suffragette.

Sylvia Pankhurst published her account of the militant suffrage struggle as The Suffragette: The History of the Women’s Militant Suffrage Movement 1905-1910, in 1911. It was published in Boston as well as in England. She later published The Suffragette Movement - An Intimate Account Of Persons And Ideals, bringing the story to World War I and the passage of woman suffrage.

American Usage

In America, the activists working for women's voting preferred the term "suffragist" or "suffrage worker." "Suffragette" was considered a disparaging term in America, much as "women's lib" (short for "women's liberation") was considered a disparaging and belittling term in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Suffragette" in America also carried more of a radical or militant connotation that many American woman suffrage activists did not want to be associated with, at least until Alice Paul and Harriot Stanton Blatch began to bring some of the British militancy to the America struggle.

Also Known As: suffragist, suffrage worker

Common Misspellings: sufragette, suffragete, suffrigette

Examples: in a 1912 article, W. E. B. Du Bois uses the term "suffragists" within the article, but the original headline was "Suffering Suffragettes"

Key British Suffragettes

Emmeline Pankhurst: usually considered the main leader of the more radical wing of the woman suffrage (or suffragette) movement.

She is associated with the WPSU (Women’s Social and Political Union), founded in 1903.

Millicent Garret Fawcett: campaigner known for her “constitutional” approach, she is associated with the NUWSS (National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies)

Sylvia Pankhurst: a daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and Dr. Richard Pankhurst, she and her two sisters, Christabel and Adela, were active in the suffrage movement. After the vote was won, she worked in left-win and then anti-fascist political movements.

Christabel Pankhurst: another daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and Dr. Richard Pankhurst, she was an active suffragette. After World War I she moved to the U.S. where she joined the Second Adventist movement and was an evangelist.

Emily Wilding Davison: a militant in the suffragettes, she was jailed nine times. She was subjected to force-feeding 49 times. On June 4, 1913, she stepped in front of the horse of King George V, as part of a protest in favor of women’s votes, and she died of her injuries. Her funeral, a major event for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WPSU), drew tens of thousands of people to line the streets, and thousands of suffragettes walked with her coffin.

Harriot Stanton Blatch: a daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Henry B.

Stanton and mother of Nora Stanton Blatch Barney, Harriot Stanton Blatch was an active suffragist during her twenty years in England. The Women’s Political Union, which she had helped found, merged later with Alice Paul's Congressional Union, which later became the National Woman's Party.

Annie Kenney: among the radical WSPU figures, she was from the working class. She was arrested and imprisoned in 1905 for heckling a politician at a rally about women’s vote, as was Christabel Pankhurst, with her that day.  This arrest is usually seen as the beginning of the more militant tactics in the suffrage movement.

Lady Constance Bulwer-Lytton: she was a suffragette, also worked for birth control and prison reform. A member of the British nobility, she joined the militant wing of the movement under the name Jane Warton, and was among those who went on a hunger strike in Walton jail and were force fed.

  She said that she used the pseudonym to avoid getting any advantages for her background and connections.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson: a sister of Emmeline Pankhurst, she was the first woman physician in Great Britain and a supporter of women’s suffrage

Barbara Bodichon: Artist and women’s suffrage activist, early in the movement’s history – she published pamphlets in the 1850s and 1860s.

Emily Davies: founded Griton College with Barbara Bodichon, and was active in the “constitutionalist” wing of the suffrage movement.