Women get the Vote
The 6th of February 1918 AD
The campaign to gain women the vote in Britain had run for decades by 1918. Thinkers such as J.S. Mill had long advocated the reform. Senior politicians like David Lloyd George backed the idea – in his case perhaps thinking his mistresses guaranteed him a block vote. In spite of this and the campaign by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies since 1897, itself merely uniting the efforts of existing groups; and the more assertive and eventually violent suffragettes – more formally The Women’s Social and Political Union – Parliament had stubbornly and some may say stupidly resisted the change, just as Parliament has so often fought against reforms affecting itself.
It was WWI which moved the game on – war is indeed the locomotive of history. Women had taken on male roles; the armaments industry had been manned (a misnomer if ever there was one) by women; and yet the world had not come to an end. As the war progressed politicians began to discuss how to bring about the change so that justice should be done. Even Herbert Asquith had changed his mind on the question.
Thus on March 28 1917 the Commons with a huge majority, and the Lords by a far closer margin of 134 to 71, passed the Representation of the People Act, also known as The Qualification of Women Act; on February 6 1918 it received royal assent and passed into law.
Yet women were still not on equal terms with men as regards voting rights, nor would they be for another 10 years when a further Representation of the People Act was passed. In 1918 only women over the age of 30 (compared to men over the age of 21) were granted the vote, the electorate increasing almost threefold as most property qualifications were dropped in the same legislation, increasing the male electorate into the bargain.
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