As so often when I am looking for a subject to write about, suitable items seem to multiply and push themselves forward in my mind. Yesterday during some family history researching I found a male ancestor was able to vote in 1873. This led me to check the qualifications for voting at that time. They were not - as I had thought - ownership of property, but that a man was a householder and could be renting a property, thanks to the provisions of the 1867 Reform Act. This led of course to an investigation of exactly when and to whom voting rights were extended and a good, quick explanation can be found here. This link also shows how men and women campaigned - many dying - in their attempt to gain universal suffrage. We often glibly talk about the Chartists [the picture shown above is taken from one of their campaign banners] yet how many of us know the six points of the charter?:
- Votes for all men
- Equal electoral districts
- Abolition that Members of Parliament be property owners
- Payment for MPs
- Annual general elections
- Secret ballots.
All men over 21 and women over 30 achieved the vote in the Act of 1918, and I suppose most school children who have studied the First World War would know this and quote that the Suffragettes who had laid aside their campaigning at the start of the war to help the war effort were thus rewarded - especially as so many had worked hard in munitions factories, nursing, in men's jobs to free them for war service etc etc. [I would like to point out that my feisty, trade unionist Grandmother - the original Elizannie - who had worked in a munitions factory all through WW1, whilst my Grandfather was at the front, did not get the vote at this point as she was under 30. Women had to wait for total equality to men until 1928 when their age for the right to vote was lowered to 21 also in the Equal Franchise Act.
So why am I writing today? Well perhaps you have noticed in the media that it is 100 years ago today that Emily Wilding Davison was fatally injured by the King's horse at the Epsom Derby in her campaign to obtain Votes for Women. There have been over that one hundred years many discussions about her motive for stepping out onto the race track and some can be found here.
Emily belonged to the Women's Social and Political Union, WSPU, commonly called the Suffragettes. Their aim to extend suffrage - the vote - to women seemed hopeless at their start, madness during the campaign yet was successful in the end. It must be emphasised that Emily belonged to what is perhaps the more 'militant arm' and not all members and supporters believed that breaking windows and chaining themselves to railings etc was the way to get the vote. The WSPU has also been criticised for only worrying about middle-class women and their higher class 'sisters'. However, as all women eventually received the vote, all women have a lot for which to thank them.
The composer Dame Ethel Smyth was a member of the WSPU and wrote this anthem for them when in 1911:
When we look at this very brief history of the campaign for universal suffrage, please let it inspire you all to vote in the next election that comes your way. Even if you 'spoil' your ballot paper to show your distaste of politicians, please take the time to go to the polling station and draw your voting slip. Remember that people, especially women, have died to get you the privilege to vote. Remember them by using that privilege and valuing your vote. Please.