December 1918: Women Vote for the First Time
Just over a month after the Armistice with Germany ended the First World War, the United Kingdom was faced with a General Election.
Not only was the timing of the election significant, but it was also the first General Election which followed the Representation of the People Act 1918, which allowed some women the right to vote for the first time (as well as expanding the vote to many working class men). 8.5 women were now eligible to vote.
Given the huge extension of the franchise, many voters required education about elections and voting. Leaflets, like the below were available to voters, it contained information similar to the content which we share on the Voting Counts website over one hundred years later!
Despite it being many women’s (and working class men’s) first opportunity to exercise their right to vote, the turnout for the 1918 election was just 59%. Many point out that this low turnout might be due to lack of voter education and the delay in many newly enfranchised troops from returning from Europe.
This photo, included in a collection at the Imperial War Museum, shows a woman voting for the first time.
Countess Markievicz was the only female candidate to be elected in 1918, however as a Sinn Féin MP she refused to take her seat in the House of Commons. This allowed Conservative candidate for Plymouth Sutton, Lady Astor, to become the first female MP to take her seat in the Commons a year later in 1919 (following a by-election). It took a further two years for another woman to join her on the Commons’ green benches.