The Aberdeen Women’s Suffrage Campaign

“We are prepared to take extreme measures like the others but we must, as the independent Aberdeen WSPU, be the judges as to when & where that action is politic…. In London, at a distance, these … local matters cannot be appreciated, but they are often the things that matter a great deal.” - Caroline Phillips, Honorary Secretary of the Aberdeen branch of the WSPU 1907

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Who Were the Aberdeen Suffragists and Suffragettes?

Women in Britain first started large‐scale campaigning for the vote in the 1860s. The Aberdeen Women’s Suffrage Association was set up in the 1870s, campaigning amongst other things to get women elected to the city School Board. However, this limited amount of civic responsibility only whetted women’s appetites for the Parliamentary vote, which was still firmly denied to them.

By the start of the 20th century the Aberdeen Association was affiliated to the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). These campaigners are known as ‘constitutional suffragists’ – they aimed to achieve the vote through peaceful campaigning, petitions and letters to MPs.

Growing frustration with the situation finally prompted Emmeline Pankhurst, the widow of a socialist politician from Manchester, to establish a new kind of suffrage organisation. Working with her daughters Christabel, Adela and Sylvia, and others from her socialist circle in Manchester, Mrs Pankhurst established the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. The WSPU aimed to raise the profile of the question of women’s suffrage, including in the press, and to make women campaigners more visible. The Daily Mail called them the Suffragettes to distinguish them from the NUWSS.

An Aberdeen branch of the WSPU had been set up by 1907. From then until early 1909 its honorary secretary was the journalist Caroline Phillips. You can learn more about Phillips and the archive of her correspondence held in Aberdeen here.

Mapping Aberdeen’s Suffragists and Suffragettes

The aim of this website is to map the locations of suffragist and suffragette activity throughout the city and Aberdeenshire. Each point on the map indicates at least one suffrage-related event. Some locations, such as the Aberdeen Music Hall, saw many different events. Clicking each link will give you further information about what happened and who was involved. We aim to cover the suffrage campaigns of the constitutional suffragists, such as the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), and the militant suffragettes, such as the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the Women’s Freedom League (WFL).

Sarah Pedersen

Robert Gordon University

If you know of a suffrage event that we have not covered, please get in contact.

Further Resources