This record is held by Manchester Archives and Local Studies

Details of M50/1
Reference: M50/1

1. Minutes


2. Correspondence (In)


3. Lydia Becker's Letter Book (Out)


4-6 Annual Reports


4. Manchester Society


5. Manchester and District Federation


6. National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies


7. Women's Suffrage Journal


8. The Common Cause


9. Newspaper Cuttings


10. Miscellaneous Papers (formerly pasted in a scrapbook), 1870-1885


11. Miscellaneous Papers, 1908-1918


12. Miscellaneous Papers of the Manchester and District Federation


13. Parliamentary Division Lists


14. Bills to Extend the Franchise to Women


15. International Woman Suffrage Alliance


16. Miscellaneous Papers on Women's Suffrage


17-18 Miscellaneous

Date: 1867-1919
Held by: Manchester Archives and Local Studies, not available at The National Archives
Copies held at:


Language: English

Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage, 1911-1919, Lancashire

North of England Society for Women's Suffrage, 1897-1911, Lancashire

Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage, 1867-1897, Lancashire

Becker, Lydia Ernestine, 1827-1890, Secretary Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage, Manchester

Physical description: 18 series
  • Manchester, Lancashire
  • Womens organizations
  • Womens suffrage
Administrative / biographical background:

The Manchester Society began in earnest on 11 January 1867, when Jacob Bright, Rev. S. A. Steinthal, Mrs. Gloyne, Max Kyllman and Elizabeth Wolstenholme met at the house of Dr. Louis Borchardt. [Women's Suffrage by Helen Blackburn, but also see The Suffragette Movement by Sylvia Pankhurst, p.30, for claim by Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy that it had begun in Oct. 1865] Lydia Becker was made Secretary of the Society in February 1867 and Dr. Richard M. Pankhurst was one of the earliest members of the Executive Committee.


Its aim was to obtain for women the right of voting for members of Parliament on the same conditions as was, or might be granted, to men. In Nov. 1867 the Manchester Society joined in a loose federation with societies in London and Edinburgh into the National Society for Women's Suffrage. It was then known as the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage until 1897, when along with about 500 other suffrage societies, it joined the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, and became the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage. In 1911 it changed its name to the Manchester Society for Women's Suffrage, part of the Manchester District Federation of the N.U.W.S.S.


In its first year the Manchester Society worked to put women with the requisite property qualification on the electoral register. Though most of these were subsequently removed by the Revising Barrister and the advocacy of Sir John Coleridge and Dr. Richard Pankhurst in the Court of Common Pleas, 7 Nov. 1868, failed to have them reinstated, thirteen women who had been overlooked by the Revising Barrister were still on the Manchester register at the time of the election of November 1868, and nine actually cast their votes.


This early work of the Society and the electoral campaign of 1868 are illustrated by Lydia Becker's letter book, Mar.-Nov. 1868 (M50/1/3).


Lydia Ernestine Becker (1827-1890), born in Manchester, the eldest of fifteen children of Hannibal Leigh Becker, calico printer, became interested in women's suffrage on hearing a paper "On Reasons for the Enfranchisement of Women" by Madame Bodichon, at the Social Science Association meeting in Manchester in Oct. 1866.


From February 1867, when she became Secretary of the Manchester Society, to her death in 1890 she was the mainstay of the suffrage movement in the north of England. From 1881, she was also Secretary of the Central Committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage, and in 1870 she founded and edited the Women's Suffrage Journal, which ceased on her death. (M50/1/7)


Her personal letter book contains letters written as Secretary of the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage, as Treasurer of the Manchester Committee for the Married Women's Property Bill and personal letters to her family and friends. They all express her belief that women's suffrage was the first and most important step to the equal treatment of men and women in other fields. In a letter of 19 Oct. 1868 she urged Josephine Butler to leave her philanthropic work to those who were incapable of anything else and to devote her talents to securing the vote for women. Her opinions on her contemporaries are expressed very forcibly. The Mayor of Manchester "vindicated his reputation for being a stupid ass" by refusing to sign the petition in favour of the Married Women's Property Bill. At an election meeting "Mr. Bazley was dry, Mr. Jones was full of claptrap ... Mr. Bright ... was calm, dignified and statesmanlike." Jacob Bright was considered to be of a "far higher nature" than his brother, John. Dr. Pankhurst was "a clever little man ... with some extraordinary sentiments about life in general and women in particular."


The efforts of Jacob Bright and others secured the right of women to vote at municipal elections by the Municipal Corporations Amendment Act of 1869, and the right to vote for and sit on School Boards by the Education Act of 1870 but Women's Disabilities Bills, each year except 1874 from 1870 to 1879, and petitions to Parliament, failed to gain the parliamentary franchise.


In the 1880s the old suffrage societies became divided among themselves as to whether married women should have the vote and in 1889 several former members of the Manchester Society, including Dr. and Mrs. R. M. Pankhurst, who had removed to London, Mrs. Alice Cliff Scatcherd Mrs. Jacob Bright and Mrs. Wolstenholme Elmy founded the Women's Franchise League, which brought forward the Women's Electoral Franchise Bill 1889, to give the vote to those women, whether married or single, who possessed the relevant qualifications.

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