Suffragette Definition: The Brief History of a Misused Term

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Poster for a 1914 suffragette film

Suffrage, or the right to vote, came far too late for many historically disenfranchised groups, including women. In Britain as well as the U.S., women’s rights activists fought (and continue to fight) for gender equality in varying ways, leading to the emergence of two distinct terms—’suffragettes’ and ‘suffragists’—by the early 20th century. 

More than a hundred years removed from the Suffrage movements, many today use suffragette and suffragist interchangeably. In this article, the Zero Theft Movement will define who and what suffragettes were and distinguish them from suffragists.

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Suffragist vs. Suffragette


Suffragist refers to an individual who advocated for women’s voting rights, often in a peaceful, non-confrontational way.

Suffragette refers to a woman who campaigned for the women’s right to vote by using ‘militant’ or extreme tactics (e.g. hunger strikes, smashing windows, accosting politicians).

You’ve probably recognized two important differences between the definitions, but we’ll make them clear:

  1. ‘Suffragist’ does not specify gender, while ‘suffragette’ specifically refers to women
  2. Suffragists looked to achieve women’s suffrage with education and debate, suffragettes with militant methods.  

American women’s rights activists, due to the negative connotations of the suffragette label (more on this next), went by suffragists only. Nevertheless, within the British women’s suffrage movement, some women welcomed the epithet.

The -ette Suffix

Adopted from French, the -ette suffix eventually found its way into British English first. For the bigger cigar, came its smaller counterpart in the cigarette; and for the bachelor, came the bachelorette. -ette, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defines it as “little one” and/or “female.” 

By the turn of the 19th century, a tsunami of women’s suffrage had started to form on the horizon. Famed suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst and her maturing daughters (particularly Christabel and Sylvia) began to deviate from the suffragists’ ways, taking more confrontational methods to achieve their mission. Pankhurst established the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Manchester and settled on the motto “Deeds not words.”—a statement that would perfectly encapsulate the WSPU’s approach. 

Cover of the 14 March 1913 edition of The Suffragette, a newspaper created by British women’s rights activists.

Cover of the 14 March 1913 edition of The Suffragette, a newspaper created by British women’s rights activists. 

You could find members of Pankhurt’s exclusively female union chained to railings, defacing public property and art, and disrupting political meetings. The newspapermen, wanting to both mock this new militant group as well as differentiate it from the suffragists, decided to tack on the -ette suffix to the end of ‘suffrage.’ 

Nevertheless, the supposedly wee women took it all in stride, even reclaiming the derogatory label of suffragettes by making it the name of their newspaper. They accepted the name proudly, as a title that exemplified their willingness to do whatever it took to win the voting rights they should have always had. 

Historically speaking, women laborers have received even less wages than their often poorly paid male counterparts. For the same duties, the same hours, and so on. Between 1950 and 1960, women with full time jobs earned about 59-64 cents for every dollar men made for the exact same job. Current economic foul play could be taking money out of the average American’s pocket. Start fighting for what you deserve…


Both the American and British women’s suffrage movements, of course, received much pushback. There wouldn’t have been full-blown movements, otherwise. Without even realizing it, those against suffrage merely exposed their often sexist views that had unfortunately been treated as laws. Many women had even internalized the misogyny, perceiving themselves as inferior to men. Anti-suffragists argued that women did not have any interest in voting and/or lacked the intellect to form political opinions. They saw the women’s suffrage movement as a threat to the family institution and even womanhood. 

From Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA

From Palczewski, Catherine H. Postcard Archive. University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls, IA.

American suffragists, though, had to contend with Black suffrage, though. Apart from a failed experiment in the American Equal Rights Association, women’s right activists and abolitionists often vehemently disagreed on who should receive voting rights first. While many members of the strongly supported Anti-Slavery Society believed women deserved the right to vote, most thought advocating for universal suffrage would cause both efforts to fail. This conflict, in part, contributed to suffragists working with a shoestring budget. If women could even secure employment, their money needed to go to their husband by law.

Suffragette Quotes

“Trust in God: She will provide.” – Emmeline Pankhurst

“The true militant suffragette is an epitome of the determination of women to possess their own souls” – Emily Davison (accidentally trampled to death by King George V’s horse while she was advocating for suffrage)

“Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.” – Emmeline Pankhurst

“Remember the dignity of your womanhood. Do not appeal, do not beg, do not grovel. Take courage, join hands, stand besides us, fight with us.” – Christabel Pankhurst

“Governments have always tried to crush reform movements, to destroy ideas, to kill the thing that cannot die. Without regard to history, which shows that no Government have ever succeeded in doing this, they go on trying in the old, senseless way.”– Emmeline Pankhurst

Fight the Rigged Layer of the Economy with the Zero Theft Movement 

During the industrial revolution in the U.S., wealthy business owners unethically capitalized on ‘traditional family roles,’ citing it as a major reason for paying women a fraction of men’s salaries (40%-60%). This systemized sexism allowed the rich to generate major profits on the backs of women they paid poorly. Furthermore, women in Britain, despite the massive aid they provided in World War I, were forced back into their role as the homemaker, and those who could get employment had their wages suppressed even after they’d won voting rights in 1928. 

Unfortunately, suppression of women’s wages continues to this day. This economic injustice contributes to the rigged layer of our otherwise healthy economy, allowing companies to unethically boost profits off of competent, skilled workers. We cannot allow crony capitalists to continue ripping us off. By exposing the crony capitalists and lawmakers who have succumbed to regulatory capture, we can all share in an ethical economy that isn’t ripping us off. Just as the Kuznets curve suggested.    

Higher wages across the board, markets that involve genuine competition for our business, and a government that legislates based on our interests rather than moneyed interests. We can only achieve this with YOUR help.

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Through the Zero Theft platform, all citizens can propose and vote on instances of potential rigged economy theft. The best proposals comprehensively investigate a case, exposing its major players and events. This process occurs across the whole economy, allowing us to get complete coverage of each sector. 

We then take our top-proposals from each sector and come up with a sum for the Public’s Total Theft Report. This report serves as the strong evidence we have lacked to prove theft is occurring. Not only can we achieve our goals, but also significantly aid other anti-corruption movements such as RepresentUS and Move to Amend.

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Standard Disclaimer

The Zero Theft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.   

Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. Zero Theft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.