Figures from our places who fought against female suffrage
Many of our places were home to impassioned people on both sides of the suffrage debate. Learn more about some of the key figures in the anti-suffrage movement and the reasons why they opposed female suffrage.
Britain’s leading male anti-suffragist: George Curzon
Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire
Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire was home to one of the staunchest opponents of female suffrage, Lord Curzon, Co-president of the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage from 1912 to 1918. He maintained that women lacked the ‘balance of mind’ to use the vote.
Viceroy of India from 1899 to 1905, Curzon used his political influence to persuade his peers of the damage that allowing women to vote would do to Britain’s international reputation. In 1914, he warned the House of Lords that suffrage would ‘unquestionably weaken (Britain’s) prestige and influence throughout the world’.
He was passionate about Britain’s heritage, and bequeathed Bodiam Castle in East Sussex and Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire to the Trust.
Co-founder of the National Trust and social activist: Octavia Hill
Co-founder of the National Trust Octavia Hill was seen by suffragists as truly deserving of the vote. In 1884, the suffragist Millicent Fawcett spoke of ‘thousands of women who daily fulfilled all the qualifications for the suffrage … notably Miss Octavia Hill who had … solved the question of the housing of the poor’.
A social reformer, Octavia helped drive the development of social housing in Britain. She also believed in the right to clean air and open spaces, co-founding the Trust as she lobbied to save green spaces from development.
Distracting from the real work of women
However, Octavia was anti-suffrage, writing in a 1910 letter to The Times: ‘a serious loss to our country would arise if women entered … political life’. She worried that the vote would take women away from ‘the quiet paths of helpful, real work …’.
Fiercely anti-suffrage: Rudyard Kipling
Bateman’s, east Sussex
Bateman’s in east Sussex was home to Joseph Rudyard Kipling, the much-loved author of the Jungle Book and Just So Stories. Kipling was fiercely anti-suffrage and held extremely misogynist views on the suffragettes themselves.
The female of the species
Quick to join a committee to oppose women’s suffrage, his chauvinist poem ‘The Female of the Species’ was parodied by suffragettes. His letters reveal the kind of sexual slurs with which the suffragettes had to deal. In 1911, he wrote that suffragettes were desperate to get close to men and might subsequently 'agitate for admission into the church and so on – anything that mentally or physically, brings ‘em into contact, even dilutedly, with the male’.
He believed that ‘from the lowest to the highest, the driving force of the suffrage agitation comes (a) from the surplus who, consciously or unconsciously want a man and don’t care a curse for the politics (b) from the women without power to hold or charm the man they’ve got’.
Women’s contribution to the war effort failed to change his views on the vote.
Britain’s leading female anti-suffragist: Margaret (Leigh) Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey
Osterley Park, London
Osterley Park was home to Margaret (Leigh) Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey, a Tory political hostess and philanthropist who became Britain’s leading female anti-suffragist. She chaired the first meeting of the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League and was co-president of the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage.
Marching against suffrage
On 21 June 1910, she led an anti-suffrage deputation to the Prime Minister on the same day as a pro-suffrage demonstration led by Laura McLaren.
Championing the role of women in 'social and domestic matters'
A Times article describes her telling Prime Minister Asquith that: ‘The opponents of woman suffrage did not think that women were more stupid than men, but they knew that their hands were overfull already. There was a large field for woman in social improvement, in the care of the schools, and in municipal affairs’.
A month later she described herself as ‘unutterably opposed’ to suffrage, a view she continued to hold through World War One.
Despite her conservative views, she worked as a journalist and playwright.