One Hundred Years of Women’s Suffrage

A photo of a large march of suffragettes, with a banner visible that says 'from prison to citizenship'It is only 100 years since women, in the UK, won the right to vote, even then, it was only granted to women who were householders and over the age of 30. It took another 10 years before the right to vote was extended to all women over the age of 21.

The struggle to obtain women’s suffrage was fought long and hard and got underway, in earnest, with the founding of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) led by three Pankhursts, Emmeline and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. The movement started with large parades, but with the ruling Liberal Party refusing to allow a vote on the issue, later resorted to more radical methods to raise more awareness and support for the cause.

Labour MPs Keir Hardie and George Lansbury were proponents of Women’s Suffrage, George Lansbury was even imprisoned, in 1913, after making a speech at a WSPU rally.

Lack of government support prompted more militant action, including attacks on property and arson, resulting in the imprisonment of many suffragettes who then often resorted to hunger strikes. The response to this was often force feeding. Many women who became very ill, as a result of force feeding, were then released, on the condition that they returned to prison once their health was restored. This Act was passed in 1913 and was known as the Cat and Mouse Act.

With the outbreak of the 1st World War, in 1914, a serious shortage of ‘manpower’ opened up new opportunities to take on work previously only considered suitable for men. This included factory work, particularly in munitions industries. Suffrage had largely been based on the occupational qualifications of men. The fact that so many women, replacing the men, were gaining the same qualifications, in turn further advanced the cause. Many men returning from the war also were not entitled to vote as they did not meet the property qualifications and were also required to be resident in the country 12 months prior to a general election, this effectively ruled out men serving overseas in the war.

On the 6th February 1918, a coalition government passed the Representation of the People Act which allowed women who were over the age of 30 and also householders to vote. 8.5 million women met this criteria, but it still represented only 40% of the female population. The same act also extended the vote to all men over the age of 21 and abolished property restrictions but only for men.
It wasn’t until ten years later, in 1928, with the introduction of the Equal Franchise Act that women over the age of 21 were allowed to vote on the same terms as men. These brave women fought hard so that women of future generations would have the right to have a say in the choice of their parliamentary and local government representatives. Please make sure that their struggle was not in vain, please ensure that you are registered to vote, go to gov.uk/register-to-vote, write to the Electoral Registration Officer, Huntingdonshire District Council, Pathfinder House, St Mary’s Street, Huntingdon PE29 3TN, email elections@huntingdonshire.gov.uk, or telephone on 01480 388 017.

Thank you.

Sue Foster,
Women’s Officer