On this day in 1918 British women over the age of thirty got the right to vote.
The campaign for women’s suffrage gained momentum throughout the early part of the 19th century as women became increasingly politically active, particularly during the campaigns to reform suffrage in the United Kingdom. John Stuart Mill, elected to Parliament in 1865 and an open advocate of female suffrage (about to publish The Subjection of Women), campaigned for an amendment to the Reform Act to include female suffrage. Roundly defeated in an all-male parliament under a Conservative government, the issue of women’s suffrage came to the fore.
During the latter half of the 19th century, a number of campaign groups were formed in an attempt to lobby Members of Parliament and gain support. In 1897, seventeen of these groups came together to form the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), who held public meetings, wrote letters to politicians and published various texts. In 1907 the NUWSS organized its first large procession. This march became known as the Mud March as over 3,000 women trudged through the streets of London from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall to advocate women’s suffrage.
The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, which had always employed ‘constitutional’ methods, continued to lobby during the war years, and compromises were worked out between the NUWSS and the coalition government. On 6 February, the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed, enfranchising women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications. About 8.4 million women gained the vote. In November 1918, the Eligibility of Women Act was passed, allowing women to be elected into Parliament. The Representation of the People Act 1928 extended the voting franchise to all women over the age of 21, granting women the vote on the same terms as men.
Isn’t it fascinating to think that this was less than a hundred years ago. It’s hard to believe just how far women have come in such a small amount of time.