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The Women’s Freedom League (WFL) was formed in 1907 by breakaways from the suffragette Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), whose leadership under the Pankhursts they felt was becoming increasingly autocratic. Their founding meeting took place in the Emerson Club, which had been founded and was run by members of the ethical societies. This new group’s name, and their oft-used motto ‘Dare to be free’, symbolised aims for the emancipation of women stretching beyond just gaining the vote. Teresa Billington-Greig, a founding member and – like many colleagues in the organisation – a humanist, spoke to these wider hopes in her 1911 book The Militant Suffrage Movement, describing herself as ‘a feminist, a rebel, and a suffragist’. She wrote:

I desire to see woman free and human; I seek the complete emancipation from all shackles of law and custom, from all chains of sentiment and superstition.

Though the precise tactics of the Women’s Freedom League changed over the many decades of its existence, one method adopted was that of ‘constitutional militancy’, which included acts of civil disobedience, such as tax resistance, keeping a dog without a licence, and census non-cooperation or boycott. Lillie Boileau, a driving force in the early 20th century humanist movement, was arrested twice for her involvement in suffrage campaigning with the WFL, and many other members of the Union of Ethical Societies (now Humanists UK) were also active suffragists.

Image: LSE Library

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