Why women shouldn’t vote
Political activity will tend to take away woman from proper sphere and highest duty, which is maternity.
It will tend by the divisions which it will introduce to break up the harmony of the home.
Women have not, as a sex, or a class. the calmness of temperament or the balance of mind, nor have they the training, necessary to qualify them to exercise a weighty judgment in political affairs.
If the vote is granted, it is probable that a large number of women would not use it at all. But in emergencies or on occasions of emotional excitement.
The presence of a large female factor in the constituencies returning a British Government to power would tend to weaken Great Britain in the estimation of foreign powers.
– Extracts from Lord Curzon’s Fifteen Good Reasons Against the Grant of Female Suffrage
In the early 20th Century the campaign for women to be granted the right to vote gained momentum, with pro-suffrage groups using both peaceful and militant means to push for voting reform (learn more).
While there were many women (and men) during this time who fought and showed support for women’s right to vote in Britain, there were a number of individuals and groups, such as the Anti-Suffrage Campaign or the Men’s League for Opposing Woman Suffrage, who opposed the suffrage movement and sought to stop women from gaining political enfranchisement.
Literature produced by such groups attempted to persuade the public and politicians that women should not be given the right to vote.
A lot of the opposition towards women getting the vote focused on the role of women in society. There was a view that women operated in the ‘domestic’ or ‘private’ sphere – looking after the home and domestic affairs, and therefore there was no need for them to be involved in the country’s political activity when their husbands’ or fathers’ votes could represent the family.
Satirical postcards and caricatures were also produced to mock women involved in the suffrage movement in an attempt to make them look unfit to engage in political discourse, or a threat to male power.
Those opposed to female enfranchisement weren’t just concerned about women’s ability to vote in elections, they feared it was a slippery slope to women forming a majority of the electorate following WW1, or even one day running the country! Debates in Parliament in the run up to the Representation of the People Act in 1918, presented an opportunity for members to raise these concerns.
Once given, the franchise—a boon, a privilege, a right, whatever you like to call it—can never be taken back. It may be ill-used, it may be misused, it may even be abused, but, once given, it can never be withdrawn. Therefore you are doing in this case, if you pass this clause in the Bill, even more than crossing a Rubicon. You are opening the floodgates to something much more than a tiny rill; you are opening them to a flood—because, as we all know, we cannot stop here—which will presently overspread this country and submerge, whether for good or evil, many landmarks that we have hitherto known. – Earl Curzon of Kedleston, during a debate in the House of Lords.
I have realised that it would be the most disastrous and revolutionary measure that could be conceived, let alone introduced into the House of Commons…Hon. Members speak about some of our Colonies and some other small countries which have given the vote to women. That is quite a different thing, because the women there are in a hopeless minority. No nation has ever been ruled by a majority of women. That is the state to which this country would be reduced. – Colonel Chaloner, during a debate in the House of Commons
My opposition to the Franchise Bill was always based upon one ground and one ground only, not that you were denying to women an opportunity for work in co-operation with men, or denying to women something which you were allowing to men, but my opposition was on entirely different ground—it was that by opening up to every woman inducement to take part in public life you were giving opportunities to perhaps the most gifted of their sex to take part in public affairs, and that participation in public affairs would have the almost certain consequence that they would neglect what is the primary obligation and duty of women, the creation, management, and control of the home. – Sir Hobhouse, during a debate in the House of Commons.
Despite opposition, the Representation of the People Act passed into law in 1918, granting women over 30 (who met certain qualifications), and all men over 21, the right to vote. Following the passage of the Act, the anti-suffrage movement began to disband and eventually ceased to exist.
Reviewing their literature over 100 years on helps us to appreciate the arguments and debates that suffrage campaigners had to engage with in order to win the fundamental right to vote. The points made by these leaflets also play into a wider debate about women’s role in society during the 20th century, as well as assisting today’s voters in recognising the value of their vote.