Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society brief history

In 1906 the Oldham Suffrage Society was disbanded at what was a time of growth and for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Although suffrage meetings were still held in the borough it was not until 1910 that Oldham obtained another such organisation.

In September 1910 Miss Margaret Robertson of the North of England Society for Women’s Suffrage began a campaign to establish a NUWSS branch in Oldham.  On the 8 November 1910 at Unity Hall in Oldham, the Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society (OWSS) was formed with about 130 people joining.

The first meeting of the OWSS was held in the Music Room at Werneth Park and Miss Marjory Less was elected President. Marjory was a very active member of the OWSS and her contribution was recognised in 1919 with the presentation of a book recording the history of the Society. At some stage in the Societies history its name was changed to the Oldham Society of Women’s Suffrage.

When a measure of women’s suffrage was obtained in 1918 the society disbanded. A new organisation was formed, the Oldham Women Citizens’ Association, with the initial aim of educating women as to the responsibilities associated with their new voting rights.

The archives associated with the Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society can be viewed at Oldham Local Studies and Archives, Ref: M90.

Oldham Local Studies and Archives

84 Union Street, Oldham, OL1 1DN

0161 770 4654

archives@oldham.gov.uk

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NUWSS and the Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society

The Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society was part of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).  The NUWSS was a co-ordinating body which was established at the end of the 1890s under the leadership of Millicent Garrett Fawcett.  The overarching aim of the Union was to obtain the vote for women through peaceful tactics, non-violent demonstrations, petitions and the lobbying of MPs.  Millicent Fawcett believed that if women could prove that they were responsible citizens through intelligent, polite and law abiding campaigning they would prove themselves able to vote and participate fully in politics.

By 1903 the peaceful tactics of the NUWSS had generated much support for the cause both in and out of Parliament but each attempt to get an electoral reform bill passed had failed.  Frustrated with the lack of progress Emmeline and Christable Pankhurst set up the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in affiliation with the Independent Labour Party.  In 1905 they left the NUWSS and concentrated on the militant campaign.  The publicity generated by the militant suffragette campaign led to a rise in the membership of the NUWSS.   The public opposition of militancy by the NUWSS was what attracted many of these new members who through the heightened publicity were more aware of the issues but not prepared to condone the militants methods.  The NUWSS continued to use non violent means of campaigning but expanded them to include marches, demonstrations, rallies and pageants.  By 1914 the NUWSS had over 500 branches and 100,000 members. 

The Women’s Suffrage Pilgrimage was part of this increase of pressure through more visible demonstration.  The Watling Street route began on the 18 June 1913 at Carlisle.  The Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society members joined the pilgrimage on the 7 July and traveled as part of the Pilgrimage to London, attending both the rally in Hyde Park and a service at St. Pauls.   

Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society

This July it will be 100 years since the Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society participated in the Suffragist Pilgrimage to London which raised the profile of the non-militant, non-political demand for equal suffrage.  We are lucky enough at Oldham Local Studies and Archives to have a diary written on the pilgrimage by the Oldham Society President,Marjorie Lees.  This blog will follow the progress of the Oldham cohort in their trip from Oldham to Hyde Park.  The pilgrimage lasted for 20 days between the 7-26 July and each day will see the relevant diary entry posted.  We hope that you enjoy this personal view of a unique period of history that shaped the country that we live in today.