May 2018 The Tool – a suffrage pamphlet
Written in the early 20th century, this leaflet was published to persuade and convince the working class women of Britain to support the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) campaign for the right to vote.
Established in the later decades of the 19th century, the NUWSS was an umbrella organisation incorporating localised suffrage societies, and acted as a liaison between them and Parliament for women’s rights issues. It was predominantly made up of wealthy middle-class women and, although dedicated, lacked the power to influence Parliament effectively.
In the early years of the 20th century a greater attempt was made to recruit working class women from the industries to their cause. Leading suffragists such as Millicent Fawcett, and Northern campaigners Eva Gore Booth and Esther Roper, recognised the need for mass support in order to lean on Parliament more effectively and dispel the notion that suffrage was only a concern for the elite few.
The Northern societies set out targeting the cotton mills and pottery factories; they opened new branches in industrial towns such as Accrington and Salford in order to increase their support base in favour of the women’s vote.
This leaflet was published in response to this renewed campaign, and is written in order to convince working women of the importance of suffrage. It argues that the vote is necessary to tackle other issues and gives examples, such as reforming women’s working hours and influencing the spending of their taxes, to appeal to working class women.
The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), headed by the formidable Pankhurst women, is often credited with rallying the working class to support women’s suffrage; however it was publications such as this, and other work by the NUWSS in the early years of the 20th century, that laid the foundations for mass support that the WSPU was able to gain in subsequent years.
Helen McFeely, volunteer
This leaflet was purchased as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund project Voting for Change.