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Why Civil Rights Movement Was More Effective Than The Suffragette Movement?

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In the late 19th century, British women fought for suffrage. Decades later, cross the Atlantic, black people in the US fought for civil rights. We can see the similarities in both revolutions: vulnerable groups fought for their rights, they resisted again the backward social perceptions and discrimination. Both demonstrate the inalienable human rights and equality are sure to be realized. Pursued a common goal, yet differed in paths. Based on the causal chain of the direct impact, the effectiveness of gaining support to achieve constitutional changes, we uphold the idea that the American civil rights movement is more effective.

To begin with, when comparing the cost of two movements, it seemed that the civil rights movement costed less than the suffragettes movement, yet, produced a much better result. The suffragettes resorted to violence then caused many adverse effects. For example, some of them were regarded as crimes. They committed to arsons, broke windows, destroyed paintings and even set horrific bombing. Political meetings were thus interrupted (Bearman, 2007), other citizens' daily life were also disrupted as a result of the riot and chaos caused by suffragettes. Not only did the social stability and public order were deeply affected, but suffragettes themselves got imprisoned. Moreover, the crazy behaviors did gained publicity as they expected, however draw many negative comments, which was disadvantageous to them.

Contrary to that, people involved in civil rights movements chose to use moderate and legitimate methods as one of the best-known civil rights movement leaders Martin Luther King always advanced. The Montgomery bus boycott is also a convincing proof of people's restraint, for it being ''non-violence protest', but yet active and effective resistance' (Sanders, 2016). To restrain did not mean to be fruitless, during the boycott, except the bus company and its employers, no other people's interests and rights were undermined. Though the 'damage' wasn't very massive as it was in Suffragettes movement, the effect was impressive. Even though, it costed the bus company one million dollars, and the economic loss shop owners suffered was also considerable (Wanders, 2016), basic social stability was able to be maintained. Both movements seemed to attract people's attention, or in another word, fulfilled the primary demands of the reformers, which was to address their lawful rights. But when we compare the cost of these two movements, the American civil rights movement limited the loss and damage to the slightest degree, while the suffragettes destroyed everything they saw and caused public loss of many innocent people. We believe that when chasing for the same goal, the one who did less harm was more effective. After the comparison and analysis, we can come to the conclusion that the American civil rights movement is more effective on the front of the limitation of costs and harms.

Secondly, the civil rights movement is more effective in view of eliminating obstacles such as social biases that hinder the gaining of rights. Due to the long-existing and deep-rooted beliefs and stereotypes people entertained, black people were seen as inferior to white people and were not entitled to enjoy certain rights, and women in Britain were believed to be not as mentally stable as men to make rational decisions. Black people in America demonstrated their importance to the society and resolve to get their rights by lobbying and bus-boycott, which successfully made the white community to make reconciliation and re-considerate the role black people plays in American society(Sanders, 2016). However, the militant actions undertaken by British suffragettes perfectly reinforced people’s bias of women not being mentally stable, leaving it less chances for them to get suffrage, one thing that shall be entertained by rational people.

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While gathering public attention, the aftermath of it could be either positive or negative, and when the group get positive reaction, support from the whole society will be the catalyst of their campaign; while when people commit to illegitimate behaviors, for all that people know their demands, they won't approve them, because nobody trusts terrorists, let alone supporting them. So as far as we are concerned, though getting public attention and awareness is essential when people fight for their lawful rights, the black people participating in the American civil rights movement boycotted with restraint and order, which led to a nice impression that further pushed the final constitutional change; on the other hand, suffragists' violence reversely enhanced people's biases, and consequently hindered the course to be enfranchised.

Thirdly, we view the achievement of constitutional changes as a key factor when defining whether a movement is effective, in terms of which, the suffragettes movement in the UK is less effective. Because, while fighting for rights, the suffragettes seemed to ignored the importance of restoring to legislative measures. In the civil rights movement, African Americans directly brought cases to the Supreme Court and the litigation strategy directly brought constitutional guarantee of their rights. For example, the winning of Brown v. Board of Education case resulted in the Supreme Court adjudging that separated education was psychologically harmful to black children (Sanders, 2016), resulting in the start of desegregation at schools and preliminary triumph of the civil rights movement.

In the contrast, thought the suffragettes were aware of the importance of getting the parliament involved in granting suffrage to women, rather than taking litigation tactics, they decided to cause disruption and civil disobedience, such as the “rush” on parliament, arson and law-breaking (Parliament. UK), which achieved nothing but the damage of public facilities, works of art and imprisonment for many (Gullickson, 2008). There were women’s organizations that aimed at building up the legal and constitutional support for getting suffrage for women. Yet sadly, their actions were overwhelmed by those of militant suffragettes.

Thusly, with the comparison and analysis of conducts of suffragettes and black people in the US together with their consequences, American civil rights movement appears more effective to us. Based on our criteria of the cost, elimination of biases and the achievement of constitutional changes, we reckon the effectiveness of American Civil rights movement more sufficient than of Suffragettes movement in Britain.


  1. Bearman, C. (2007). An Army without Discipline? Suffragette Militancy and the Budget Crisis of 1909. The Historical Journal,50(4), 861-889. Retrieved from
  2. Gullickson, Gay L.(2008).Emily Wilding Davison: Secular Martyr? Social Research, 75(2), 461–484. Retrieved from
  3. Vivenne Sanders. (2016). Civil Rights and Race Relations in the USA 1850-2009 for Edexcel. p.116
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