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Celebrating centuries OF WOMEN

To mark the centenary of the vote being granted to (some) women, and the 90th anniversary of it being granted to all in July 1918, Rachel Bellerby takes a tour through centuries of female history, looking at achievements in fields including medicine, industry, the military and entertainment

FEMALE LIVES

Marking Voting history

A procession of members of the Women’s Social and Political Union draw a carriage of released suffragettes away from Holloway Prison, c1908
Votes for Women rosette, c1913, produced by the WSPU, from The Women’s Library collection at LSE

VOTES FOR WOMEN Background to the cause

Although many of us think of the votes for women cause within its Edwardian context, with women marching on parliament, spurred on by campaigners such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Flora Drummond, the cause actually had its roots in the Chartism campaign of the Victorian era, which aimed to gain political rights for working men. Millions of people signed the demands for six rights for working-class males and it was this movement which paved the way for the votes for women cause decades later.

Many working class men got the vote in the reforms of 1867 and 1884, and by the turn of the century could vote to send their own MPs to parliament. Now, radical suffragists wanted the vote for women so they could improve working conditions, and a way to do this was to become involved in politics.

By 1900, around 70 per cent of men owned or rented property and so were entitled to vote – at last working class men had rights, and encouraged by this success, women began to stand for local government. Yet their success in this area begged the question of why they could stand on committees such as that for a board of guardians or a school board, yet not be allowed to be full members of British society with their own vote?

Suffragist or suffragette?

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), founded in 1897, aimed to get women’s suffrage through ‘peaceful and legal means’. Its members tended to avoid violent or attention-grabbing protests such as smashing windows and blowing up pillar boxes, and many felt that the behaviour of more militant suffragettes put those wanting votes for women in a bad light.

NUWSS supporters were known as suffragists (not suffragettes) and before World War I they concentrated their efforts campaigning simply to have a political representative who supported votes for women. When war broke out in 1914, the NUWSS supported the war effort and helped to staff hospital wards, filling vacancies left by those who had gone to war.

A meeting of WSPU leaders Flora Drummond, Christabel Pankhurst, Annie Kenny, Emmeline Pankhurst, Charlotte Despard and two others, working round a kitchen table, c1906-1907
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About Family Tree

Join us as we celebrate the mothers, grandmothers, aunts and more on your family tree. It's vital to research the female ancestors, otherwise you're only learning half of your family history. This issue we have plenty to help and inspire your research into women's history and so gain a fuller understanding of your family members and their lives in times gone by.