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Britain 1901–1945

A 1914 map of the British Empire (in pink) at the outbreak of World War I Britain entered the 20th century as the most powerful and richest country in the world. It had a huge worldwide empire defended by a large, powerful navy. Over the next 45 years, Britain faced major changes in the way it was governed and the way its people were represented. There was also to be a catastrophic downturn in the economy and total involvement in two world wars, which changed the world—and life in Britain—for good.

The Suffragettes

Members of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies—the suffragettes—campaigning on the streets of LondonEmmeline Pankhurst (right) and her daughter ChristabelAt the start of the 20th century, women could not vote in parliamentary elections or stand as an MP. Campaigners for women’s suffrage—the right to vote—had set up groups in most major towns that combined to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Many women, however, thought that its peaceful methods were failing. In 1903 a new militant organization, the Women’s Social and Political Union, was set up in Manchester and led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel. Members of this new group were called suffragettes and would use any means necessary, including violence, to get the vote.

In 1906, the British government passed the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, giving schools the right to provide free lunches to children from poor families for the first time.

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