• Votes for Women - the First 100 Years

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    09 February 2018

    A new 50p coin will soon be in circulation. The first was struck by Dr Helen Pankhurst the great grand daughter of Emiline Pankhurst who played a key role in the fight for female sufferage. Today, and particularly as a father of bright young daughters it seems barely believable that there was ever a time when women were denied the vote. In a whole host of areas Victorian women were treated less equally than men and indeed the 1832 Great Reform Act settled the position of women’s denial of the vote by explicitly excluding all women from voting even that small number who had up until then met various stringent property tests. The Victorian view was that men would exercise their vote whilst taking into account the interests of their families. It was not until 1882 that women were even allowed to own property and even then only where married. In 1872 the National Society for Women’s Suffrage (‘suffragists’) was founded and set about pushing for reform through peaceful means such as public meetings. It was their lack of progress that was to usher in the suffragettes in the form of the Women’s Social and Political Union which was founded in 1906 and took a more militant approach including the smashing of windows and arson attacks on unoccupied country houses and churches. The suffragettes on balance probably hindered their cause as much as they advanced it as there was a strong public distaste for their methods even though there was also much popular revulsion against the so-called ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ which saw women who had been locked up in prison and who went on hunger strike released until they had recovered only to be re-arrested and sent back inside. The whole votes for women movement was essentially parked for the duration of the Great War but afterwards the 1918 Act brought women’s votes for the first time. This move was assisted by the crucial role women had played in wartime economy. The sexes however were still not treated on the same basis. A man could vote if 21 or over but a woman had to be at least 30 and meet a property test – i.e. as a householder, wife of a householder, occupier of property with a particularly level of annual rent or a graduate of a British university. Full equality was not to arrive until 1928 when a Conservative government under Stanley Baldwin passed the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act. It was to be a long road to secure women the vote. Look out for the commemorative fifty pence piece – we all owe a great deal to those who fought for women to have the right to vote. My daughters are now growing up in a Britain where any suggestion that they might not receive the same voting rights as men would be met with dumbstruck disbelief – I am very very glad of that. More from Mel at and on Twitter @MelJStride