Education of Women
Elizabeth and Ben believed that to change the world for the better we need to educate women – a fact that remains true today. Elizabeth was dismayed by the woeful standard of education for girls in her day. She campaigned along with Emily Davies for girls to be given the same access to education as boys. In 1865 she founded the Manchester Schoolmistresses Association and in 1866 gave evidence to the Taunton Commission into education, the first woman to give evidence at a Parliamentary Select Committee.
In 1877 Elizabeth helped found the Women’s Franchise League and after the famous “Clitheroe Case” founded the Women’s Emancipation Union (WEU) and following the Local Government Act of 1894 worked hard to encourage women to stand in elections. Over 100 of the WEU organisers were elected as Poor Law Guardians or Parish Councillors. After the failure of the 1897 Women’s Suffrage Bill it folded.
Elizabeth was friendly with Richard Pankhurst and he introduced her to his new wife Emmeline and they became friends. She worked with Emmeline to found the WSPU and they worked tirelessly together to fight for women to have the vote. She resigned from the WSPU in 1913 when its violent activities threatened human life; she was a lifelong pacifist.
Married Women’s Property Act 1882
This was one of the major campaigns that Elizabeth fought and she was secretary to the Married Women’s Property Committee from its inception in 1867 until the bill was passed in 1882. This was a major victory for women as it allowed women to keep their own property after marriage. Prior to this when a woman married all her property and money passed to her husband.
Contagious Diseases Act
In 1869 Elizabeth set up the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act and invited Josephine Butler to be its president. This was a particularly nasty piece of legislation which discriminated against women. The women were imprisoned if they had a STD whereas the men walked free. Their campaign was successful and the act was repealed in 1886.
Guardianship of Infants Act 1886
Elizabeth worked for the Guardianship of Infants Committee for this bill to be brought in, and the act was passed in 1886. This act meant that women had the right to keep their children if a marriage ended in divorce. Prior to this the children of a failed marriage were seen as the property of the father and women were often refused access to their own children.