The Women's Emancipation Union and Radical-Feminist Politics in Britain, 1891–99
Article first published online: 13 JUL 2010
© 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Gender & History
Volume 22, Issue 2, pages 382–406, August 2010
How to Cite
Wright, M. (2010), The Women's Emancipation Union and Radical-Feminist Politics in Britain, 1891–99. Gender & History, 22: 382–406. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0424.2010.01596.x
- Issue published online: 13 JUL 2010
- Article first published online: 13 JUL 2010
This paper considers the ideals and activism of the fin de siècle feminist organisation, the Women's Emancipation Union (WEU). Active between 1891 and 1899, the WEU held a prophetic vision of the future and an appraisal of women's subjection more comprehensive than any contemporary feminist group. Members were the first to link the possession by women of their bodily autonomy directly to the acquisition of the parliamentary vote, and thus redefined the terms upon which citizenship was constructed. One member raised the matter of armed insurrection in support of the women's franchise, an issue which would have serious implications for the future of suffragist campaigns. The political roots of WEU members lay chiefly within the utopian-socialist and Radical-liberal traditions, but it was an organisation which resisted party-political allegiance to become anchored in the Progressive movement. Adopting what has been defined as the ‘muckraking’ tradition associated with Progressive authorship, the WEU suffragists constructed a rhetoric of resistance to women's subjection from social, sexual, economic and political standpoints. Many points they raised, including for a woman's right to consent to maternity to be enshrined in law, were to become the bedrock of the philosophy of the militant suffragette movement.