Brits at their Best.com: British History, Culture & Sports, History of Freedom, Heroes, Inventors

LIBERTY! THE TIMELINE

1900 to 1938

man and woman with arms around each other walk on beach in Australia

In Australia, votes for women seem natural.

Photo: davidf@istockphoto.com

WOMEN WIN VOTE
BRITS FIGHT FOR FREEDOM
IN WORLD WARS

Women risk prison and death to achieve the right to vote. Brits defeat two evil empires, and millions are freed from tyranny. Citizens of the British Empire in India demand self-government.

1902 ALL AUSTRALIAN WOMEN GAIN THE RIGHT TO VOTE, AND TO STAND AS CANDIDATES

Since the 1880s Australian women have heard that giving them the vote will make them vulgar, that women are meant for more sacred things, that they will vote their emotions, and (an unfortunate contradiction) that they will vote exactly as their fathers and husbands do. Some men call suffrage “a craze in the South Seas,” and predict unspecified dire results will follow. But opinions are changing.

In 1900 the people of the Australian states decide to create one federal nation. Women discover they cannot get female suffrage written into Australia's new Constitution, so they go to work to ensure that men who support their cause will be elected to Australia's first Parliament.

In Parliamentary debate, the champions of women affirm that giving women the vote is not a gift to be conferred but a simple act of justice. Women have been obeying laws and paying taxes, and should have a say about both.

The strategy of supporting candidates who will support votes for women is effective. The Australian Parliament passes the Bill, and Australia becomes the first nation in the world where women have both the right to vote and the right to stand as candidates.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline Pankhurst

1903 – 1905 EMMELINE PANKHURST LAUNCHES CRUSADE FOR WOMEN’S RIGHT TO VOTE IN BRITAIN

Emmeline Pankhurst is a young girl when she hears American suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton speak, and becomes convinced women should have the right to vote. Decades later, she is still working for suffrage, and understandably running out of patience.  With her daughters she establishes the Women’s Social and Political Union. Their motto, wittily echoing the Royal Society's, is “Deeds, not words.”

Emmeline and her daughter Christobel have the dramatic and autocratic command of great stage directors. Emmeline is described by Rebecca West as trembling like a reed when she lifts “her hoarse, sweet voice on the platform, but the reed was of steel and it was tremendous." Motivated by a passionate sense of fairness, Emmeline is convinced that giving women the vote will change the world for the better.

But the Pankhursts cannot gain media coverage for their cause or interest the men in Parliament in supporting them. The MPs appeared bored with the subject of women’s suffrage. Christabel decides to attract their attention.

1905 WOMEN COMMIT ACTS OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE TO AFFIRM THEIR RIGHT TO VOTE

Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney attend a Liberal Party meeting, and insist on repeatedly asking when the Liberal Government will give women the vote. Ejected from the hall, Christabel and Annie are arrested in the street, refuse to pay their fines, and are thrown into prison. The press goes wild, and Emmeline arranges a theatrical welcome home. The Women’s Social and Political Union strews the streets with flowers when Christabel and Annie walk out of jail. The Daily Mail invents the patronising name 'suffragette'. Women adopt it. They flaunt it on their banners, organise campaign speeches and marches, and canvass for the vote among men.

1906 – 1908 SUFFRAGETTES CAMPAIGN AGAINST UNRESPONSIVE GOVERNMENT AND PREOCCUPIED PM

Daring, energetic, and focused, the Women’s Social and Political Union continues to drum up support for votes for women, and to oppose anti-vote candidates. WSPU members interrupt political meetings to demand that MPs tell them where they stand on women's right to vote.  The Liberal Government, at best indifferent and at worst antagonistic to a woman's right to vote, is swept into power. Undaunted, the women continue their campaign, writing and selling newspapers, and holding meetings.

smililng mother with two little daughters

The people who are being denied the right to vote in the early 20th century are "the mother half of the human family." In a huge demonstration, they march in a four-mile-long procession to the Houses of Parliament.

Photo: jordanchez@istockphoto.com

1908 – 1909 WOMEN APPLY PRESSURE WITH MARCHES AND HUNGER STRIKES

Members of the Women's Social and Political Union march down Downing Street, and throw stones through the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street. Twenty-seven are arrested. Still others chain themselves to railings outside Number 10. (The time it takes the police to saw through the chains gives them enough time to make a speech that receives newpaper coverage.) Hundreds are arrested, including Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst.

In 1909 Suffragette Marion Dunlop is imprisoned, refuses to eat, and goes on a hunger strike. She is protesting being treated as a criminal rather than a political prisoner. Afraid she may die and become a martyr, the Government releases her. The news flies to other jailed suffragettes, who immediately go on hunger strikes. They have decided to use their own bodies as weapons.

Panorama showing Cape Town, South Africa

In the early 19th century the Brits take Cape Town, pictured above. The Dutch living at the Cape push their settlements north, in part because they resent British attempts to regulate labour relations and end slavery. Citizens of the British Empire in Africa call for self-representation as early as 1893.

Photo: window seat@istockphoto.com
Cape Town from Table Mountain

1909 NON-WHITE CITIZENS PROTEST THE UNION OF SOUTH AFRICA

Living to the north of the Cape colony are the Zulu, and farther north and east, a great slave empire run by Arabs. Within the next ten years, the assaults of the Zulu will send tribe reeling against tribe and thousands of African refugees pouring south sinto the Cape colony and Natal to escape the Mfecane – the Zulu "Crushing".

In 1893 the state of Natal, which includes British and Dutch settlers and blacks, achieves full self-government. Black men who are Christian and educated have the right vote.

The discovery of diamonds and gold bring thousands more to South Africa. The British win the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902). Winston Churchill, who had made a daring escape from Boer forces and is now a member of the British Government, drafts a Constitution for the Transvaal with universal manhood suffrage, a value he ardently supports.

In 1910 the British Liberal Government allows the Cape Colony, the Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal to become one nation, but tragically does not protect its black citizens. Thousands of black men, citizens of the British Empire, protest the nation's new constitution which denies them equality with white citizens. Their protest is desperate, brave, and unavailing. The awful injustice of this decision can be summed up in the one word black: Why should any person be described by the colour of their skin rather than the content of their character.

1910 GOVERNMENT DROPS BILL TO GIVE WOMEN THE VOTE; WOMEN PROTEST; ‘BLACK FRIDAY’

On November 18, on what will become known as Black Friday, women try to gain admission to the House of Commons. They are protesting against the Government's dropping of the Conciliation Bill, which would have given them the vote. 

Their protest develops into a riot when they try to break through police lines, and are brutally mauled in a six-hour struggle. Badly bruised, the movement to gain women votes continues. It includes women of the Women's Freedom League, and it has, writes Geraldine Lennox, “a spirit that would not sit down under injustice – a spirit meant to get things done.”

1911 PARLIAMENT APPROVES MORE FREQUENT GENERAL ELECTIONS AND LIMITS THE POWER OF THE HOUSE OF LORDS

Parliament approves a Bill for national election every five years. (Elections will be held more often if the Government loses the confidence of the House of Commons.)

The Government threatens to flood the House of Lords with new members unless the Lords agree to drastically limit their power to reject bills approved by the Commons. The House of Lords agrees.

This appears to be a victory for democracy since the House of Lords is an unelected chamber. However, by the end of the 20th century the Lords will defend freedom from attacks by the government.

1911 – 1913 WOMEN ATTACK PROPERTY TO DRAW ATTENTION TO SUFFRAGETTE CAUSE; RESIST CAT-AND-MOUSE ACT

Responding to Government intransigence, in particular its scuttling of the Conciliation Bill that would have given women the vote, the women become militant. Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline's daughter, directs attacks against property, including window smashing, picture slashing, and arson. The "Headingly two" – a dark-haired woman and "a girlish figure in green cap and sports jacket" stand trial for atempting to set fire to a sports stand in Leeds. The public finds destruction of golf greens (Votes for Women etched in acid in the grass) particularly nettlesome. Dozens of suffragettes are arrested.

Many women disagree with the new militancy. But others believe law-breaking is a response to tyranny. When they are imprisoned, they go on hunger strikes. When they become dangerously weak, the prison authorities try to force-feed them. They use doctors and wardresses to hold a prisoner down, force a 2-foot long feeding through her nostrils and down into her stomach, and pour egg and milk down her as she chokes. Reading reports about the procedure in the newspapers, the public is aghast.

Doctors and wardresses enter Emmeline Pankhurst’s cell to force-feed her, but she resists them with such magnificent spirit, they slink from her cell. Others are not so lucky. Now in her fifties, Emmeline endures ten hunger strikes.

Emmeline is arrested, released, and rearrested 12 times. She eloquently tells the court, “We are here not because we are lawbreakers; we are here in our efforts to become lawmakers.”

The Government passes the 'Cat and Mouse Act', freeing ill hunger strikers until they regain their strength, then "clawing them back" when they are strong enough to serve the rest of their sentences. Suffragettes respond heroically to this iniquitous strategy. More than a thousand are jailed. They include wealthy women and mill girls, typists and teachers, mothers and housekeepers. They organise a huge public gathering in London with thousands of women in white including 700 prisoners or their proxies and march seven miles with banners. By now they are selling everything from shirts to tea-cups to support their cause.

There is some splintering of their unity, and dictatorial actions by some of their leaders. However the bravery and dedication of these women will inspire their descendants.

1914 WOMEN MAKE DRAMATIC SACRIFICE AS WORLD WAR I BEGINS

World War I breaks out, and Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst call off the suffrage campaign to support the war effort. As Emmeline pragmatically remarks, “What would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in.” In less than a week, the Government releases all suffragist prisoners, and many, but not all, throw themselves into the war effort – working on farms, stoking furnaces, producing munitions, and building ships.

Houses of Parliament, London, and unlit lamps

On the eve of World War One, Sir Edward Grey declares, "The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." More than three million Brits die or are wounded protecting Europe from conquest by Germany.

Britain's Parliament buildings
Photo: williamfawcett@istockphoto.com

1914 BRITS DEFEND NATIONS INVADED BY GERMANY AND AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN EMPIRE

Fear and greed, an insatiable lust to dominate and an inability to forsee consequences entangle Europe and Britain in a war that spreads catastrophically beyond Serbia and across the world -World War One.

The German Kaiser has grandiose imperial ambitions. He fears a resurgent France, and, though he respects the Royal Navy, which has guaranteed the safety of the world's shipping lanes for one hundred and fifty years, he has contempt for Britain's small army which is not large enough to deter him from invading.

France loathes Germany's acquisition by conquest of Alsace-Lorraine. Russia feels possessive over the Slavic Balkans, and wants to break Ottoman control over the Dardanelles and Bosporus so it can send ships into the Mediterranean. Italy is jealous of threats to its North African possessions, and covets Austria-Hungary's. Austria-Hungary is determined to keep its empire intact and to maintain its rule over rebellious Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ukrainians, Romanians, Italians, Slovenes, Croats and Serbs who want to rule themselves in independent nations.

As if they were mountain climbers, a web of treaties roped European nations together. Under the Kaiser, Germany struggled to obtain the summit and dominate the others.

According to research in Imperial German archives, belatedly opened in the 1960s, the Kaiser was looking for a reason to launch a war against Russia and its ally France. He believed that growing Russian military power would soon end his dreams of European domination.The assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince in Serbia by a Serbian nationalist on June 28th 1914 gave him his excuse.

Determined to punish and control Serbia, Austria–Hungary delivered an ultimatum in July. while Russia tried to protect Slavic Serbia. Britain attempted to arrange a conference of great nations to stop the looming disaster, to no avail.

Austria-Hungary declared war against Serbia. Russia mobilized. The Kaiser declared war against Russia and France, and threatened to invade Belgium. Pledged to defend Belgium's neutrality, Britain issued an ultimatum to Germany which the Kaiser rejected.

European nations thought the rope of treaties would be their safety, but they were pulled into the yawning chasm of war. World War One began in the first week of August, 1914.

The Ottoman Empire enters the war on Germany's side. Even Japan, linked by treaty to Britain, enters the fray by declaring war on Germany.

The war is fought on the Western and Eastern Fronts, in France, Russia, the Caucasus and Persia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Italy, Serbia, Greece, Romania, in the North Sea and the Atlantic. Millions of men and women perish.

In 1916 and 1917, the neutral United States attempts to mediate a peace. Germany declares unrestricted submarine warfare, sinks three US merchant ships, and suggests an alliance with Mexico to retake Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The United States enters the war as an ally of Britain. Cuba, Panama, and Brazil, among others, follow suit, and so does China.

The Packe diaries describe a young Brit who fought in the trenches.

1918 ALLIES DEFEAT GERMANY AND AUSTRIA-HUNGARY

The entry of the United States on the side of the Allies makes victory possible. Purchased at enormous human cost, Allied victory in November, 1918, opened the door to liberty for many subject peoples. Newly freed from the Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian and Ottoman empires, the independent countries of Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Austria, Hungary, the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, and the Republic of Turkey were born. For details on the Brits at war, see Winston Churchill, Going through Hell, Part 2

Dictatorships cannot abide justice and freedom and cannot live without domination. Twenty years later, dictators will drag the world into World War Two.

1918 PARLIAMENT APPROVES VOTES FOR WOMEN

At the end of World War I, Parliament passes the Representation of People Act, which gives votes to women over 30 who are property owners and to property-owning men over 21. Women also become eligible to stand for Parliament. The Act is called a reward for women’s war efforts, and a simple act of justice. Women who do not own property remain without representation, but eight million women can now vote, and they do.

Dark-eyed Indian woman looks at us with beautiful dark eyes

The citizens of India, who contribute one million men to Britain's World War One effort, call for self-government. Parliament responds slowly, but positively.

Photo: rave007@istockphoto.com

1919 PARLIAMENT RECOGNISES RIGHTS OF CITIZENS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE

Born in India and educated in Britain, Mahatma Gandhi is initially a shy, timorous barrister who becomes one of the more audacious men on earth. In 1914 Gandhi frankly says that as a citizen of the British Empire he wants and deserves freedom and protection, and in return Britain deserves his support during World War I. Indians show an outpouring of loyalty and goodwill towards Britain, contributing generously to the British war effort with men and resources.

After the war, Indians claim a greater role in governing themselves. Their desire for representative government grows – in part because a subcontinent once divided into 1,000 kingdoms has been united into one nation by Brits; in part because Indians in British schools have learned about freedom; and in part because to live free is a natural desire.

Parliament recognizes the justice of Indian calls for self-rule by adopting a policy that calls for "increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions." The Government of India Act of 1919 introduces dual administration, or diarchy, with elected Indian legislators and appointed British officials sharing representative power. The act also expands the central and provincial legislatures and considerably widens the franchise. Portfolios such as agriculture, local government, health, education, and public works are handed to Indians.

These advances, like those in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, are unprecedented in the history of any empire. However, the steps seem slow to Gandhi and millions of Indians. Their use of nonviolence speeds independence. It is an effective strategy in the British Empire, but might have failed miserably against an empire that lacked respect for civil disobedience and freedom.

1928 PARLIAMENT PASSES EQUAL FRANCHISE ACT

Parliament passes the Act that gives all women over the age of 21 the right to vote. Shortly after the Act is passed, and just a month before it becomes law, Emmeline Pankhurst, who has been working toward this goal for forty-nine years, dies.

Newfoundland cliffs

The British Empire freely gives legislative indpendence to dominions from Newfoundland (pictured above) to Australia.

1931 BRITISH EMPIRE GIVES EFFECTIVE LEGISLATIVE INDEPENDENCE TO DOMINIONS IN STATUTE OF WESTMINSTER

This is a first in the history of empire. The British Empire is the first empire in history to willingly give legislative indendence to its dominions.

They include the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of Canada, the Irish Free State, the Dominion of Newfoundland, the Dominion of New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa. Legislative independence was ratified by the parliaments of the dominions over the next decade.
(Newfoundland never adopted the Statute; it became a province of Canada in 1949.)

It is worth nothing that the Statute of Westminster 1931 states that “The Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations as they are united by a common allegiance to the Crown.” The independent nations are unlikely to be interested in a Crown controlled by the European Union.

1933 DUFF COOPER AND WINSTON CHURCHILL WARN BRITAIN IS UNPREPARED TO DEFEND HERSELF

In the early 1930s many 'peace' campaigners urge Britain to disarm. Tory MP Duff Cooper dares to suggest that Britain has to strengthen the RAF now that Hitler has acquired power in Germany, and is shouted down. Despite Cooper's warnings and Winston Churchill's, the government promises not to rearm in the General Election of 1935. As a result Britain lacks any deterrence power, and is too weak to stand up to Nazi Germany in the 1930s when Hitler could still have been stopped.

1936 THE BATTLE OF CABLE STREET STOPS BLACKSHIRTS FROM ENTERING EAST END

The British Government has turned a blind eye toward Germany's rearmament under the Nazis. Brits do not want another war. The horrific losses of the First War remain a deep wound. Nevertheless there is a growing awareness that the Fascists on the continent are racist and anti-semitic.

In the East End of London, Brits learn that Fascist men in black shirts intend to march through Cable Street on September 30. Jews are urgently warned to stay away.

They do not stay away. They join three hundred thousand East Enders, and stop the Fascists, who disband in chagrin.

It has been said this was not a good day for free speech, but it seems each side had its say.

The East End will be mercilessly bombed by the German Luftwaffe during World War II.

1939 - 1945

 

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass