A brief introduction to Historic photography

How Did Women Win the Right to Vote?

Take a look at some of the key people, places and moments in the campaign for women's rights to vote.

The Representation of the People Act of 1918 granted women over 30, with specific property qualifications, the right to vote.

It would be another ten years before women were granted the vote on the same terms as men.

Here we look at some of the key people, places and moments in the campaign.

Annie_Kenney_and_Christabel_Pankhurst via wikipedia
Suffragettes Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst, members of the Women’s Social and Political Union. Image via Wikipedia.

1792 A Vindication of the Rights of Women is published

Early human rights advocate and educational pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft states the case for women’s equal rights as the emotional and intellectual equals of men, 126 years before the first women get the vote.

Newington Green Unitarian Church in North London features a life-size artwork of Mary Wollstonecraft, who lived in the village in the 1780s and attended the chapel. The chapel is listed at Grade II. © Historic England Archive DP264776.

1832 First suffrage petition from an individual woman to Parliament

Mary Smith, from Stanmore in Yorkshire, says that she pays taxes and is subject to the law, so she did not see why she should not be able to vote. The petition was presented by Henry Hunt MP – a radical MP known for his part in the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. The petition is laughed out of the House of Commons.

1851 Sheffield sees the founding of the first women’s suffrage organisation in the UK

Anne Knight, a social reformer, abolitionist and pioneer of feminism, founded the Sheffield Women’s Political Association partly in response to feeling marginalised within the abolition movement.

All Souls Church, Langham Place from the South. © Historic England Archive BL20981/057.

1858 Feminist periodical ‘The Englishwoman’s Journal’ (later ‘The Englishwoman’s Review’) is founded

Barbara Leigh Smith (later Bodichon), daughter of a radical MP, had petitioned Parliament in 1856 in favour of the Married Women’s Property Bill to give wives control over their property and earnings.

The petition was unsuccessful, and so formed the Langham Place Group – so-called for their premises in central London. The group supported initiatives to improve access to education and work for women. ‘The Englishwoman’s Journal’ was the first periodical devoted entirely to women’s issues.

English_Woman's_Journal_(March_1,_1858) via wikipedia
The Englishwoman’s Journal Vol I (1 March 1858). Image via Wikipedia.

1866, 7 June The first mass women’s suffrage petition is presented to the House of Commons

The petition was brought to Parliament by Emily Davies and Elizabeth Garrett and presented by John Stuart Mill MP. It was said that to avoid attention on arrival in Westminster Hall, they concealed it under the stall of an apple seller, which is where Mill found it.

The petition organisers recorded 1499 names printed in a pamphlet, although the House of Commons Select Committee on Public Petitions logged 1521 signatures – presumably last-minute additions.

1868, April The Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage holds the first-ever public meeting on women’s suffrage at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester

The Free Trade Hall, Manchester © Historic England Archive AA026921.

1886-1904 The House of Commons votes only twice on the issue of women’s suffrage.

1870-1883 During this time, a women’s suffrage bill was introduced and defeated each year (except for 1880).

1897 The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) is formed

Led by Millicent Fawcett, the organisation operated democratically, aiming to achieve women’s suffrage through peaceful and legal means.

Millicent Fawcett's Hyde Park address 1913
Millicent Fawcett’s Hyde Park address of 1913. Image via LSE Library on Flickr.

1903 The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) is founded at the Pankhurst home in Manchester

Wishing to take more militant action in the campaign for suffrage, the Pankhursts (mother Emmeline and daughters Christabel and Sylvia Pankhurst) founded the WSPU along with three other women. They adopt the slogan ‘Deeds, not words’.

Meeting_of_Women's_Social_and_Political_Union_(WSPU)_leaders,_c.1906_-_c.1907._(22755473290) via wikipedia
Meeting of Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) leaders c.1906 – c.1907. Image via Wikipedia.

1905 Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney interrupted a Liberal Party meeting by shouting demands for voting rights for women

They are arrested, gaining media interest and support for the WSPU.

Hammersmith WSPU ‘Deeds Not Words’ Banner – Museum of London. Image via Wikipedia.

1906 The Daily Mail coins the term ‘Suffragette’ to distinguish the more militant WSPU activists from the suffragists of the NUWSS

1907, February 9th The ‘Mud March’: 3,000 women march from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall in London, organised by the NUWSS.

1908, 31 June 30,000 Suffragettes from all over England congregate in London’s Hyde Park. Purple, green and white become the colours of the WSPU

1908 Suffragettes Edith New and Mary Leigh throw stones through the windows of 10 Downing Street.

Exterior view of 10 Downing Street c Historic England DP133026
Exterior view of 10 Downing Street. © Historic England DP133026.

1909 Imprisoned suffragette Marion Wallace Dunlop hunger strikes in protest of the Government not granting women political prisoner status. She is released after 91 hours.

1909, September Prison authorities begin force-feeding huger-striking suffragettes

Suffragette-force-fed poster dates 1913 via wikipedia
Suffragette-force-fed poster 1913. Image via Wikipedia.

1911 Some suffragettes boycott the national census because they are not treated as citizens with a voice

Others spoil the forms with protest statements.

Spoiled 1911 census form. © National Archives London.

1912, March Around 150 WSPU members armed with hammers smash windows in London’s West End

Mrs Pankhurst was among those arrested.

1912, November WSPU members pour acid, ink, lampblack and tar into post boxes, damaging thousands of pieces of mail

The destruction was carried out secretly, so no arrests were made, but the Union claimed responsibility.

Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, Emmeline Pankhurst and (Mabel Tuke) in court, 1912 via Wikipedia
Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, Emmeline Pankhurst and Mabel Tuke in court at Bow Street, London 1912. Image via Wikipedia.

1913, June Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison died after being hit by King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby

Davison became a martyr for the cause. Her death was pronounced accidental.

Daily_Sketch_front_page,_9_June_1913 via wikipedia
Daily Sketch front page, 9 June 1913. Image via Wikipedia.

1914 Suffragette Anne Hunt slashes a painting at the National Gallery with a cleaver

In the seven months leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, Suffragettes are responsible for 107 incidents of arson.

Pankhurst is arrested by police outside Buckingham Palace
Pankhurst was arrested by police outside Buckingham Palace while trying to present a petition to George V in May 1914. Image via Wikipedia.

1914 August – November 1918 First World War: women are appealed to register for paid employment.

1918, February The Representation of the People Act becomes law: women over the age of 30 meeting specific property qualifications are granted the right to vote

1928, June The Representation of the People Act gives women the right to vote on the same terms as men.

English Women's Suffrage paper via Wikipedia 1920
English Women’s Suffrage paper 1920. Image via Wikipedia.

6 comments on “How Did Women Win the Right to Vote?

  1. Reblogged this on History, Archaeology, Folklore and so on and commented:
    his year marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 granted women over 30 with certain property qualifications the right to vote

  2. Excellent review of the history of this movement. It goes to show how far back the movement started and reiterates how hard women fought for their right to have a voice. Very inspirational.

  3. How were “certain property rights” defined in 1918 Act?

    What percentage of the female population was thus enfranchised?

    • Hi Gerald. The property qualifications detailed that women would only be able to vote if they owned property themselves or were married to owners of property. Around two-thirds of the total population of women in the UK met the requirements to vote after the 1918 Act. Virtually all men over the age of 21, regardless of property qualification, were eligible to vote.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: