How the vote was won

This year marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918 granted women over 30 with certain property qualifications the right to vote.

It would be another 10 years until women are 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 members of the Women’s Social and Political Union 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 equal rights of women as the emotional and intellectual equals of men, 126 years before the first women get the vote.

Newington_Green_Unitarian_Church_with_Mary_Wollstonecraft_street_art
Newington Green Unitarian Church in North London, featuring a life size artwork of Mary Wollstonecraft who lived in the village in the 1780s and attended the chapel. Image via Wikipedia

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 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 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, founds the Sheffield Women’s Political Association partly in response to feeling marginalised within the abolition movement.

bl20981_057.tif
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) via Wikipedia

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

aa026921.tif
The Free Trade Hall, Manchester © Historic England 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 is introduced and defeated each year (with the exception of 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 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 3 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 via wikipedia

 

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

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

Suffragette_Banner_-_Musuem_of_London
Hammersmith WSPU ‘Deeds Not Words’ Banner – Museum of London 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 (c) 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 via wikipedia

1911 Some suffragettes boycott the national census on the grounds that they are not treated as citizens with a voice.

Others spoil the forms with protest statements.

c
Spoiled 1911 census form. Copyright 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. via Wikipedia

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

Davison became a martyr for the cause, her death pronounced as accidental.

Daily_Sketch_front_page,_9_June_1913 via wikipedia
Daily Sketch front page, 9 June_1913 via wikipedia

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

In the 7 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 is 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 of any kind.

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

1928, June The Representation of the People Act grants 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 via Wikipedia

To commemorate the centenary of women winning the vote, we will research, highlight and list places that played a part in the struggle for suffrage and subsequent gender equality.Logo for HerStories brand including Historic England logo

Do you, or does someone in your family or area, have a hidden suffrage story? If you do, we’d love to hear it. 

Send us your stories using the hashtag #HerStories or email us at herstories@HistoricEngland.org.uk

4 responses to How the vote was won

  1. 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.

    Like

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