The Treatment of Edwardian Women | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
The leader of the Women's Suffragette movement, Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst is arrested by Superintendent Rolfe outside Buckingham Palace, London while trying to present a petition to HM King George V in May 1914.

The Treatment of Edwardian Women

Students examine various resources, including excerpts from Emmeline Pankhurt’s ‘Freedom or Death’ speech, to gain an understanding of how women were treated and expected to behave in Edwardian society.


One 50-min class period


English — UK


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.


About this Lesson

In the previous lesson, students began to explore the context in which the play was written and set, learning about key historical events in the first half of the twentieth century and about Priestley himself. They looked at how his life experiences came to impact his values and actions, and were encouraged to reflect on seminal moments in their lives, and to start to consider the links between where we come from, our identity and what we value. 

In this lesson, students will further develop their understanding of the society in which the play was set, focusing specifically on gender. Students will work in groups using the Jigsaw teaching strategy to examine a range of resources, notably the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurt’s ‘Freedom or Death’ speech, which will give them a clearer idea of how women were treated and expected to behave in Edwardian society. Such knowledge is vital if they are to fully understand the gender and power dynamics of the play. It will also enable them to draw links between the past and present, thinking about how perceptions of gender impact people’s present-day experiences. 

Students will then have the opportunity to engage creatively and independently with a contextual source of their choice for homework. Creative engagement can not only help students better understand another individual’s perspective, it can also give them the opportunity to make links between their own identities and the social structures in which they exist.

  • Application of Contextual Information (Lit-AO3)
  • Comparison and Evaluation Skills (Lang-AO3/AO4)
  • Creative Writing (Lang-AO5, Lang-AO6)
  • Critical Reading of Non-Fiction Texts (Lang-AO2/AO4)
  • Summarising and Synthesising Skills (Lang-AO1)
  • Writing for Impact (form, audience, purpose) (Lang-AO5)

Students critically read non-fiction primary sources regarding the role of women in Victorian and Edwardian England, analysing, assessing and appraising the content of an assigned text in ‘expert’ groups. When they discuss these texts in ‘teaching’ groups, not only do they develop their spoken language skills, they also boost their summarising and synthesising skills. Additionally, the use of discussion and journalling throughout helps students to verbalise their thoughts, and practise turning them into coherent sentences, which will help them across their English GCSEs. Finally, the creative homework, in which students adopt the perspective of a person from history, helps students communicate imaginatively and write for impact across genres as they merge fact and fiction. This creative task also fosters student engagement as it gives students choice and a personal means of processing the contextual information. We recommend that teachers use Marking Criteria Codes when reviewing students’ written work to help students develop the structure and content of their writing, and their written English. These marking codes enable teachers to nurture their students as effective writers by giving them in-depth feedback, of which student engagement is a vital feature.

Learn more about this unit’s Alignment with GCSE Specification

What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?

  • How were women treated in Edwardian society? 
  • How can investigating primary sources help us understand the world in which the play is set?

Students will read and discuss historical documents in order to examine how women were treated in Edwardian society in preparation for reading An Inspector Calls.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes:

  • 3 activities
  • 3 teaching strategies
  • 1 PowerPoint
  • 1 handout
  • 1 homework suggestion

Women in Edwardian society were very much regarded as second-class citizens. They had fewer rights than men, were expected to abide by different social rules, and did not have the vote, so were unable to influence or change laws that discriminated against them. However, their position as inferior citizens was beginning to be challenged and female suffrage was being pushed to the top of the social agenda. 

Emmeline Pankhurst, whose speech ‘Freedom or Death’ is a core text in this lesson, was the leader of the UK suffragette movement that campaigned for women to have the right to vote in elections. Pankhurst, who was born in Manchester in 1858, was interested in politics from an early age and became a suffragist at the age of 14, after having attended a talk where the suffragist Lydia Becker spoke. Her husband, Richard Pankhurst, who she met when she was 20, also believed in women’s suffrage and authored the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882, which sought to secure married women’s rights to their property and income. Pankhurst formed the Women’s Franchise League in 1889 with her husband, which campaigned for women’s right to vote in local elections. Then in 1903, several years after the death of her husband, Pankhurst formed the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which was accused of adopting more militant tactics. The WSPU led demonstrations and campaigns of civil disobedience, which saw women smashing windows, committing acts of arson, and engaging in hunger strikes after being arrested. Pankhurst herself was arrested on numerous occasions and subsequently went on hunger strike. She was a powerful speaker and leader, and played a seminal role in securing the vote for women. She died in 1928 not long after the Equal Franchise Act, which granted women equal voting rights to men.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

The five texts used in the Jigsaw activity are not at the same level – some are more advanced than others with more complex vocabulary and sentence structure. It is important to think about this when you are deciding which groups students should work in. You may choose to ensure groups are made of mixed-ability students, or that some groups are given shorter excerpts or the texts that are easier to understand. Ideally, the groups would be divided in such a way as to ensure that they all finish reviewing their given text and the connection questions at the same time. If possible, print at least enough copies of each reading for sharing one between two.

The following are key vocabulary terms used in this lesson. Consider adding them to your classroom Word Wall.

  • Suffragette
  • Enfranchise
  • Patriarchy

The writing assignment in the suggested homework section of this lesson, which uses the handout Edwardian Context Task Sheet, is designed to foster student independence, to develop their knowledge of context, and to give students a chance to engage with the content creatively. This task can be used to both develop and deepen students’ understanding of contextual information; it can be used to develop empathy as students are encouraged to adopt a view of people different from themselves; and it can help students prepare for their GCSE language paper as it exposes students to the different writing tasks contained in the GCSE, their various formats, and the devices specific to each one.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides.

The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson.

The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans


  • Explain to students that today they will be learning about the role of women in Edwardian society in preparation for reading the play. Before they explore contextual documents, they will first reflect on their understanding of gender in modern society.
  • Ask students to choose one or more of the following prompts to explore in a journal reflection: 
    • What jobs and personality traits do people traditionally associate with women? What jobs and personality traits do people traditionally associate with men? 
    • What role do societal institutions have in creating these expectations?
    • What role do social values have in creating these expectations?
    • Has anyone ever expected you to behave a certain way because of your gender? Explain your answer.
  • Have students apply the Think, Pair, Share strategy with a partner, before selecting some students to share their ideas with the class.
  • Explain to students that in this part of the lesson, you will be using the Jigsaw teaching strategy, which contains two key steps: 
    • First, students will be divided into ‘expert’ groups and each group will be given a different piece of source material to explore that concerns the role and treatment of women in Edwardian England. (Note that though the poem ‘Woman’s Rights’ was written in Victorian England, the gender expectations it outlines were still considered relevant in Edwardian England.) 
    • These ‘expert’ groups will review and discuss the assigned materials together.
    • Students will then be divided into ‘teaching groups’, in which they will give an overview of what they learnt in their ‘expert’ group, and discuss new questions to consolidate their learning.
  • Divide the class into ‘expert’ groups of four to five students (there are five separate readings, but you may not wish to use them all). Then pass out a different reading contained in the handout Women in Edwardian Society to each ‘expert’ group. 
  • Explain to students that each ‘expert’ group will read the group’s assigned reading together out loud, taking it in turns to read, and will then briefly discuss and respond to the connection questions in their books. Let the students know how much time they have for this first task and circulate around the room to check in with groups as they are reading and discussing the questions together.
  • You may wish to project the following terms in a glossary on the board for students to refer to or to give them access to dictionaries: 
    • Enfranchise (v.) – give the vote to
    • Forge (n.) – a workshop where metal is put in a fire for shaping or melting
    • Inevitable (adj.) – certain to happen/unavoidable
    • Lobby (v.) – to seek to influence/to try to persuade 
    • Militant (n.) – someone who uses violent or aggressive methods to fight for a cause
    • Patriarchy (n.) – a system of government and/or society in which men hold the power
    • Plight (n.) – a dangerous or difficult situation
    • Suffrage (n.) – the right to vote in political elections
    • Suffragette (n.) – a woman who fought for the right for women to vote in the early twentieth century
  • Then divide the class into new ‘teaching’ groups. All of the members of each ‘teaching’ group should have read a different reading in their ‘expert’ groups.
  • Project these ‘teaching’ group prompts on the board:
    • Briefly summarise 2–3 key findings of your ‘expert’ group to your ‘teaching’ group (take it in turns). 
    • What do these articles suggest about the social values of Edwardian England? Why?
    • What do these articles suggest about power in Edwardian England? Why? 
    • What are the similarities and differences between how women were treated in Edwardian England and how women are treated today? 
    • What does it mean when society doesn’t value an individual’s gender, a central part of identity? How does it feel? What are the consequences? 
  • Invite groups to share key ideas and insights from their discussions with the class.

Time allowing, ask students to respond to the following questions in their journals or assign the following questions for homework:

  • Have you ever felt like your gender identity has impacted how people treat you? Explain your answer. 
  • What do you think can be done in society to challenge gender expectations? Explain your answer.

Homework Suggestion

To give students an opportunity to reflect creatively on the historical context from the last two lessons, have them choose one creative writing option from the handout Edwardian Context Task Sheet to complete for homework. The range of options provided in the chart gives students a chance to engage with the topic that most appeals to them; a choice which can foster both independence and engagement. 

Each time that students complete a piece of writing, it is important to review their work, giving them feedback if necessary to ensure that they do not develop inaccurate writing habits. When students hand in their homework, consider using the Marking Criteria Codes teaching strategy to give in-depth feedback and to encourage student engagement with marking.

Materials and Downloads

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These are the handouts that students use throughout The Treatment of Edwardian Women lesson plan.

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Edwardian Context Task Sheet - PDF
Have students choose one creative writing option from the handout Edwardian Context Task Sheet to complete for homework.

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Edwardian Context Task Sheet - Doc
+ Share to Google Classroom Have students choose one creative writing option from the handout Edwardian Context Task Sheet to complete for homework.

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