How Did The Liberal Government React To Violent Campaigning From The Suffragettes?


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The Liberal Government reacted by imprisoning suffragettes. At first they were treated as political prisoners and could wear their own clothes, for instance. But after 1908 this was no longer the case. They were seen as criminals, treated like ordinary prisoners but women responded to this by hunger striking. The government introduced force-feeding and some historians say this was necessary to save lives. But the suffragettes saw it as oral rape, an "instrumental invasion of the body". Over 1000 women were said to have been subjected to this.

In August 1912, the Lancet condemned the practice of force-feeding which the Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, had described as "necessary medical treatment". The government selected their victims with care, however. Adverse publicity led in April 1913 to the "Prisoners Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act" which was dubbed the Cat and Mouse Act. The Liberal government had difficulties. Enfranchising women in such circumstances might set a dangerous precedent.

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