On 21 November 1918, the Representation of the People Act granted British women the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
The vote situation in the UK before 1918
Women’s vote has a long history thought the century. In 1832, The Great Reform Act defined voters as only a "male person." In this way, this act excluded all women from voting. In reaction to that, the women’s suffrage, led by Mary Smith, signed the first petition presented to Parliament on 3 August 1832. John Stuart Mill, a Member of Parliament, became an important figure for women’s vote. According to the British Library, he "represented in 1866 the first mass women’s suffrage petition to the House of Commons which contains over 1500 signatures".
After this act, it was the beginning of women’s societies. Many of them were created, such as the Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage (MNSWS), in 1867. Another famous society created was the Women Franchises League in 1889 led by Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) to allow married women to vote in local elections. In December 1894, the Local Government Act was passed and allowed single and married women to vote in elections for county and borough councils. Then, the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), led by Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929), was created in 1897. It aimed to draw peaceful campaign groups under one banner. The NUWSS which was composed of 17 societies, favoured peaceful campaign methods such as petitions.
Fighting for Women's vote
"I know that women, once convinced that they are doing what is right, that their rebellion is just, will go on, no matter what the difficulties, no matter what the dangers, so long as there is a woman alive to hold up the flag of rebellion" - Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst was one of the most important figures of the Suffragette fight. She created the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), in 1903 in Manchester. The NUWSS organized one of the largest processions of this period of time. During this "Mud March", 40 suffragist societies and more than 3 000 women marched all the way from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall in the rain. As the women Suffragette’s movement became more and more popular, a lot of women went to prison and some of them were on hunger strike to make their voices heard. With loads of movements, disturbances and civil disobediences, they encouraged the public to join them in an attempt to overrun the House of Commons. This is what took place in October 1908 for example, with the "rush" on Parliament. According to the UK Parliament's website, around 60,000 people amassed, but the police cordon held on.
From 1918, women over 30, obtained the right to vote in the UK. The same year, the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act’s passed, which allowed women to present their candidacy and to be elected as Members of Parliament. The first woman elected to the House of Commons was Constance Markievicz (1868-1927), in the 1918 general election. However, she didn’t take the seat as a member of the Irish political party Sinn Féin. Nancy Astor (1879-1964), was in fact the first woman to take her seat after the December 1919 by-election until 1945. Even though she wasn’t involved in any campaigns for women's suffrage, (only once in Parliament) she was a great supporter of the women's movement.
One would have to wait for the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 to give to men and women equal voting rights for the first time.
Women's vote today
Nowadays, the number of women has grown in Parliament, although men remain overrepresented. Following the 2019 election, 220 women MPs are in the House of Commons, i.e. 34% of all members. This is the highest proportion of female MPs ever.
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