Celebrating the suffragettes: How women got the vote

PUBLISHED: 08:36 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:36 06 February 2018

Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman in 1792 (Picture: Contributed)

Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman in 1792 (Picture: Contributed)


This year marks 100 years of women’s suffrage - a century ago Britain became a fairer, more democratic place to live.

Suffragettes across the nation fought for many years to win the vote - here’s how they did it.

1792 - Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman - it became controversial, and therefore a best-seller

1830 - Thomas Arnold predicted that pressures for male franchise reform was threatening a revolution

1831 - Westminster Review publishes an article by Mrs Mylne advocating for women’s suffrage.

1832 - William Johnston Fox, MP for Oldham, publishes a pamphlet for women’s suffrage

1832 - Reform Bill passed into law. It gave only a limited franchise to men owning or tenanting property above a certain value. But this actually debarred women from the franchise for the very first time.

1832 - Great Electoral Reform Act. Henry Hunt MP presents the first women’s petition on the subject, from Mary Smith of Stanmore in Yorkshire

1839 - Infants’ Custody Act passed by Parliament, which allowed an innocent mother to have care of the children until they were seven, even when the father was guardian in law. Women then started to press for divorce law reform.

1843 - Mrs Henry Reid publishes A Plea For Women, calling for the vote

1848 - Joseph Hume moved a Commons resolution to extend the vote to householder women. Benjamin Disraeli spoke in favour

1850s - the rumbles caused by the resolution to extend the vote meant a flurry of books were published restating women’s role (46 of The Ascent Of Woman: A History Of The Suffragette Movement And The Ideas Behind It)

1851 - John Stuart Mill published The Enfranchisement Of Women. Mill later attributed it to Harriet Taylor, who had become his wife.

1855 - “Women started to get organised”

1857 - Divorce Reform Act introduced some limited reform. Some protection given to property of separated wives, and grounds women could sue for divorce were extended. But more far-reaching proposals to give women rights over their property were defeated and the double standard for sexual misconduct remained.

1857 - Matrimonial Causes Act enshrined that a man could divorce for adultery, but women needed to prove other causes

1864 - Parliament passes the Contagious Diseases Act. It extended to ports and garrison towns and police could arrest common prostitutes and order them to undergo and examination and if diseased, she would be detained

1865 - The Kensington Ladies’ Discussion Society was formed, including Emily Davies. The first Women’s Suffrage Committee was formed out of it

1865 - Society for the promotion of women’s suffrage formed in Manchester

1866 - Parliament extends the Contagious Diseases Act to provide compulsory three-monthly testing

1866, April 28 - a petition was formed for suffrage of all houseowners, thereby excluding married women

1866, June 7 - John Stuart Mill and Henry Fawcett present the petition with 1499 signatures to Parliament

1867 - The Women’s Suffrage Committee becomes the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy brought Manchester suffrage groups together under the National Society for Women’s Suffrage

1867 - The Reform Act extended to houseowners who paid rates. John Stuart Mill proposed an amendment to replace ‘man with ‘person’.

Phillips says John Stuart Mill had ‘no chance’ because of the backdrop of a financial crash, riots and unemployment

1867 - John Stewart Mill presents the second women’s suffrage petition in Parliament. London National Society for Women’s Suffrage founded. The second Reform Act further widens franchise for men

1867, November - London and Manchester suffrage societies formed loose organisation called National Society of Women’s Suffrage

1868 - John Stuart Mill loses his seat, and Jacob Bright becomes the suffragette supporter in the Commons

1868, April 14 - First suffragette meetings in Manchester in the Free Trade Hall

1869 - Parliament extends the Contagious Diseases Act to all garrison towns and permitted five days incarceration before examination of trial

1869 - Parliament tried to extend the Contagious Diseases Act to all civilian populations

1869 - John Stuart Mill publishes his The Subjection Of Women - this would become a ‘seminal text’

1870, New Year’s Day - Florence Nightingale, Harriet Martineau, Josephine Butler, Mary Carpenter, and Lydia Becker are among women to sign a protest against Contagious Diseases Act

1870 - Married Women’s Property Act passed (89)

1870 - Women’s Suffrage Journal launched

1871 - Women have right to sit on school boards

1872 - Mrs Mylne’s letter for suffrage is reprinted in the Westminster Review. She said she was inspired by Jeremy Bentham, who had proposed universal suffrage in the 1920s

1873 - Social Purity Alliance founded and lay male vice and the heart of immortality

1874, January - Liberals badly beaten by Conservatives in a general election. Repealers lost MPs who were sympathetic to their cause

1875 - FPL’s father dies when FPL is three

1883 - Corrupt Practices Act passed, which made it illegal to pay people to canvas. Therefore women made good volunteers

1883 - Conservatives Primrose Association launched

1884 - Third Reform Act, meaning 63 per cent to 66 per cent of the adult male population was allowed to vote. The 1884 Reform Bill offered an opportunity - an amendment would have enfranchised only 100,000 wealthy property-owning women. Tories were more inclined to support it. But when Gladstone signalled his opposition, 104 Liberals who had announced support then voted against it. It was rejected 271 to 135

1884 - Moves to include votes for women in the third Reform Act are rejected by William Gladstone

1886 - Dr Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing claimed in Psychopathia Sexualis that women’s sensual dresire was small. This became a prevalent view.

1887 - Women’s Liberal Federation launched

1889 - Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy formed the Women’s Franchise League, which included the Pankhursts. It “became the voice of ultra-radical suffragism”. It ended by 1893

1889 - Mary Humphrey Ward and others publish a Solemn Protest Against Woman’s Suffrage in the Nineteenth Century Magazine

1890 - Lydia Becker dies

1892 - Sir Albert Kaye Rollit made a Parliamentary speech in a bill supporting franchise for widows and spinsters. Herbert Asquith opposed it. Bill lost by 23 votes

1894 - Local Government Act bill passed to allow women to vote for and sit on municipal councils. Argument of limiting vote to widows and spinsters was discarded

1897 - Two suffrage societies reformed to create the National Union of Woman’s Suffrage Societies. Its only purpose was votes for women on the same grounds as men

1897 - National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies formed with Millicent Garrett Fawcett as president

1899 - Boer War ‘eclipsed the cause’. It also raised an important question - how could Britain fight for representation of the Uitlanders if women had no representation?

(64 of Freedom’s Cause: Lives Of The Suffragettes)

1899 - FPL meets EPL

1902 - Christabel Pankhurst was speaking on women’s suffrage

1903 - Woman’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was formed

1903 - Women’s Social and Political Unions founded in Manchester by Emmeline Pankhurst

1905 - October - Conservative Government on the brink of defeat

1905 - Christabel and Annie Kenney go to prison after causing a disturbance at a Liberal meeting in Manchester

1906 - Liberals win general election with large majority

1906 - Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman is Prime Minister

1906 - WSPU moves from Manchester to London

1906 - Annie Kenney arrives at EPL’s door and convinces her to join the WSPU as treasurer

1907 - PLs take Annie on holiday with them, with Christabel and Mary Gawthorpe

1908 - Mrs Humphrey Ward started the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League

1908 - Herbert Asquith replaces Campbell-Bannerman as PM

1908 - June - March on Hyde Park

1909 - June 29 - 108 women and fourteen men arrested after a march on parliament

1909 - First force feeding of the suffragette hunger strikers in prison

1910-11 - A battle over Lloyd George’s radical budget and over reform of the House of Lords results in two general elections. Conciliation Committee formed to try to find mutually acceptable women’s suffrage measure

1912 March - Mass window-smashing raids in the West End of London lead to hundreds of arrests. Christbel flees to Paris.

1912 October - FPL and EPL are expelled from the Women’s Social and Political Union

1913 - Militancy increases. Emily Wilding Davison dies after throwing herself under the King’s horse at the Derby

1914 - Truce declared after the outbreak of First World War. Suffrage prisoners released.

1916 - Speaker’s Conference convened to discuss inclusion of women in a bill to enfranchise soldiers. Lloyd George becomes PM

1917 - The Commons passes Clause 4 of the Representatino of the People Bill which gives the vote to women householders aged 30 and over

1918 - First general election in which women can vote. Constance Markievicz becomes the first woman elected to Parliament

1928 - Women win the right to vote at 21

1929 - 14 women MPs elected at the general election

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