By 1914, there were more than 50 suffrage societies across the UK. Once war was declared militancy and violent direct action was brought to a halt, but suffragists continued to peacefully campaign for Votes for Women throughout the war years.
Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst ordered the members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) to stop all militant actions. They turned their attention to patriotism and changed the name of their newspaper from The Suffragette to Britannia. All suffragette prisoners were released. Some members were not happy with the organisation’s support for the war and the government, and formed the splinter groups the Independent WSPU and the Suffragettes of the WSPU. In 1917 the WPSU disbanded and became the Women’s Party.
Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the leader of The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) called for peace, and the NUWSS focused its attention on supporting organisations that were helping victims of war at home and abroad. Although there were divisions within the NUWSS, Fawcett remained leader until 1919.
Charlotte Despard of The Women’s Freedom League (WFL) was a pacifist and became a member of the executive committee of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1915. The WFL suspended militancy but continued to campaign for suffrage throughout the war.
Even before the war, the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance and its newspaper, Jus Suffragii, represented the pacifist voices of women in twenty-six countries. In April 1915 over 1300 women met at The Hague for the International Women’s Congress, and resolutions were made calling for peace, co-operation and equality.
Suffrage societies that remained active after 1914 include the United Suffragists, the Church League for Women’s Suffrage and Sylvia Pankhurst’s East London Federation of Suffragettes. The ELFS opposed the war on socialist and political grounds and was against conscription and wartime restrictions on free speech.