100 years of the vote for women

COHSE nursing students taking action in 1948

On the 6th February 1918 the Representation of the People Act gave women the vote for the first time. It is the case that not all women benefited from this legislation as the vote for women would continue to have restrictions until 1928 when women would achieve universal suffrage on a par with male voters.

Only 60% of men had the right to vote before 1918. The Representation of the People Act in 1918 gave all men aged 21 and over (19 if they had fought in WWI,) the right to vote and women over 30 years old the right to vote if they were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register, a property owner, or a graduate voting in a University constituency.

The Representation of the People Act 1918 increased the size of the electorate from the 7.7 million in 1912 to 21.4 million by the end of 1918. Women now accounted for about 43% of the electorate. Had women been enfranchised based upon the same requirements as men, they would have been in the majority because of the loss of men in the war. This may explain why the age of 30 was settled on. Nevertheless it was a fine victory for the suffragettes and suffragists who spent many decades fighting for the rights of women to vote. It was a long and hard fought campaign and all during these campaigns women endured such opposition that too often resulted in physical abuse from the police and public, imprisonment, hunger strikes and more. A public hunger strike is scheduled to take place outside Parliament today (6th February) to commemorate one hundred years of the passing of the Act as well as calling for the implantation of proportional representation in the UK.

Debbie Hollingsworth with Helen Pankhurst

Recently at the largest ever national women’s conference (1st to 3rd February) we were delighted to welcome guest speaker Dr Helen Pankhurst, great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst. She spoke about her new book ‘Deeds not Words’ and took questions from the floor. South East regional delegate, Debbie Hollingsworth asked Helen what she believed to be the single most important campaigning issue for women today. Helen’s view is that whilst there are many issues of inequality for women today the most pressing issue is violence against women.

To celebrate International Women’s Day (8th March) and Women’s History month (March) the South East will be providing plenty of resources to assist branches with any recruitment and organising events themed around the 100 years of the vote for women celebrations. Further information will be sent out to branches shortly for use at recruitment events or for stalls at AGM’s. Check out UNISON’s timeline of significant women who campaigned tirelessly for women workers at a time when women were not welcomed in to the existing male trade/craft unions. Women like Emma Patterson, Mary Macarthur who assisted women workers in setting up their own unions and helped women to organise, ensuring that they were supported in their workplace grievances and disputes with employers

If you would like to find out more about these amazing women, you might like to know that there is a Women’s History Course running from 23rd to 25th March and is open to all women members. Find out more and apply for a place.