Women & the vote
Women’s suffrage, the right of women to vote, was won 100 years ago through intellectual, political and violent struggle.
Before 1918, women were explicitly banned from voting in general elections. The women’s suffrage movement fought against this inequality.
The campaign for women’s suffrage took a number of forms. While Suffragists used peaceful means persuade people that women deserve equal participation, such as petitions, the Suffragettes were a more militant group of campaigners who engaged in a range of tactics, from arson to protest, to raise awareness of their cause. Prominent Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison died protesting by throwing herself under King George V’s horse whilst wearing violet, white and green – the colours of the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) Suffragette group.
With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, many of the women in the Suffrage and Suffragette movements suspended their militancy and joined the war effort. By 1918 the war was won, and the nation had seen how women had effectively taken up traditionally male dominated roles whilst men were fighting for their country. Public opinion shifted in favour of giving women the right to vote. However, the extent to which the vote was a ‘reward’ for women’s role in the war is disputed by many historians of the period.
In 1918 Parliament passed the Representation of the Peoples Act, allowing some women the right to vote for the first time in the UK. As a result of the legislation women made up 43% of eligible voters, and whilst equality in voting wasn’t achieved, the United Kingdom took it’s vital first steps to acknowledging the role women had to play in politics and their own representation.