The voice of the opposition, how Sidmouth was home to a thriving anti-suffrage group

PUBLISHED: 06:50 06 February 2018

Suffragettes gathering to protest in London in 1910. It would be another eight years of the struggle before women got the vote. Picture: PA

Suffragettes gathering to protest in London in 1910. It would be another eight years of the struggle before women got the vote. Picture: PA

The road to the vote for women was fraught with opposition across the country and even from women themselves.

The Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League (ASL) in 1908 was launched by Mary Augusta Ward.

The writer was a supporter of the movement for higher education of women but opposed suffrage as she believed women’s influence was stronger in the home in public life.

Sidmouth was among 26 new anti-women suffrage groups set up in 1908 and was equally as active as the town’s thriving suffrage society.

In preparation for its exhibition, Sidmouth Museum volunteers documented the activities of the groups by searching the archives of the Sidmouth Herald.

The first advert for anti-women’s suffrage group appeared in the Herald on October 31 1908 inviting residents to the Bedford Hotel for a meeting.

Miss Mary Angela Dickens, the organising secretary, addressed the meeting and said the success of the women’s movement would ‘bring disaster upon England’.

At the end of the meeting the Sidmouth Branch of the Women’s National Anti Suffrage League was unanimously passed and a committee elected.

Through analysing editions of the paper, the museum found the Herald published articles or letters from the anti-suffrage group every week between Christmas 1908 through to the first quarter of 1910.

In its letter the anti suffrage league stated its objectives and objections including;

- to resist the proposal to admit women to the parliamentary franchise and to parliament.

- The enfranchisement of womanhood entails very great complications and would place the female vote in an overwhelming majority.

- The sphere of women, owing to natural causes, is different, not inferior to the men, and their share in public affairs to be different, to claim to do men’s work as well as their own is to injure both.

The active anti-group held across East Devon in Seaton, Honiton, Budleigh Slaterton and Exmouth in 1909.

At a meeting in Sidmouth, Lady Arundel of Wardour, was reported to say “She did not think that the work of women consisted of taking part in political affairs. Women’s best work was done at home in the nursery.”

The Anti Suffragette League continued to be referenced in the Herald until March 1917.

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