On 6 February 1918 the Representation of the People Act received Royal Assent and women aged 30 or over who resided in a constituency or occupied land or premises with a rateable value above £5, or whose husbands did, were given the right to vote in parliamentary elections in Great Britain and Ireland. Any women aged 21 or over was allowed to vote in Local Government elections. The Act also enfranchised all men aged 21 or over in all forms of election.
The fight for Women’s Suffrage had been going on for decades (pretty much since the Reform Act of 1832 explicitly banned them from voting) and had reached boiling point just before the outbreak of WWI.
Although the militant acts of women’s suffrage ceased at this point, as did the majority of party politics but lobbying continued quietly, resulting in this act. Although many of the women involved in the fight for the vote were disappointed by the fact that this act did not enfranchise women equally with men they understood the reasons behind the limitations – the sheer numbers of men already killed in a war that was still ongoing.
At the time of the act, if equal representation had been included in the act it would have meant the majority of eligible voters would have been women and the act would simply not have passed the Commons, never mind the Lords.
It took another decade and passing, on 2 July 1928, of the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act being for women to receive equal suffrage. Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, attended the parliament session in which the 1928 Act was passed and wrote:
“It is almost exactly 61 years since I heard John Stuart Mill introduce his suffrage amendment to the Reform Bill on 20 May 1867. So I have had extraordinary good luck in having seen the struggle from the beginning.”Diary of Millicent Fawcett
The topics of Women’s suffrage and Women’s rights are hugely significant in so many ways and there are a vast number of interesting and well written books on both subjects. These are some of my personal favourites:
- Women’s Suffrage: A Short History of a Great Movement by Millicent Fawcett
- My Own Story by Emmeline Pankhurst
- Deeds Not Words by Helen Pankhurst
- Rise Up Women! By Diane Atkinson
- Suffragettes by Joyce Marlow
- Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand
- A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
- A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
- The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
- Bluestockings by Jane Robinson
- The War on Women by Sue Lloyd Roberts
- Women & Power: A Manifesto by Professor Mary Beard
- Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie