6th February 2018 marked the centenary of the Representation of the People Act being passed which first gave women of property, over the age of 30, the right to vote in national elections.
To mark this important anniversary and to launch the Vote 100 programme, Rosie, our Project Archivist was invited to the Houses of Parliament to join current and former female MPs, along with representatives from projects and initiatives taking place all over the country. Speakers at the reception included the Prime Minister, Theresa May MP, and Jordhi Nullatamby, Member of the Youth Parliament for Thurrock, who spoke of the role of women in government. You can read the Vote 100 blog post about women in government at: https://ukvote100.org/2017/11/07/1957-a-glass-ceiling-shattered/.
21st November 2018 will also be the centenary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, which first allowed women to stand for election to the House of Commons. The first woman to be elected MP for a constituency within the county of Surrey was Virginia Bottomley (Conservative) to South West Surrey in 1984. Since then Sue Doughty (Liberal Democrats) was elected to the Guildford constituency in 2001 and Anne Milton (Conservative) also elected to Guildford in 2005. The first woman to be elected to a constituency falling within the historic county, though in London at the time of the election, was Mrs Nancy Runge (Conservative) to Bermondsey, Rotherhithe, in 1931. Labour MPs for seats within the historic county (though again in London when the election took place) included Mrs Freda Corbet, Camberwell North West, in 1945; Mrs Caroline Ganley, Battersea, also 1945; Mrs Margaret Mackay, Wandsworth, Clapham, in 1964; and Harriet Harman, Peckham, in 1982. A full list of women Members of Parliament can be found at: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN06652/SN06652.pdf.
Some women were permitted to vote in local government elections long before they won the right to vote in national elections, hence their appearance in electoral registers prior to 1918. Single and widowed rate-paying (local tax paying) women were allowed to vote for town councils in 1869 and by 1907 women were able to participate in all aspects of local government. By the end of the nineteenth century, women were also able to serve on School Boards and the Poor Law Boards of Guardians (which managed the workhouses).
As part of the March of the Women project, we will be tracking women who served on local boards and committees in Surrey from both sides of the women’s suffrage debate. One of our volunteers is already hot on the case researching this. An example we have come across so far is Miss Foster Newton, who was a Poor Law Guardian for Richmond from 1888 to 1920, and who we also know supported the campaign for women’s suffrage.
Today within Surrey County Council, of the 81 members 29 are women, representing just over 35% of the council. This is similar to the Council’s Cabinet where 40% are female. This photograph shows Peter Martin, Chairman of Surrey County Council, with some of the 29 female members of the council, taken on 6th February 2018 to mark the centenary of the first women getting the vote.
You can now follow the project on Twitter at @MarchoftheWomen – find out all the latest news!
We are fast approaching the LGBT History coffee evening, here at Surrey History Centre on 22nd February 6.30pm – 9pm, where our March of the Women project will have a stand. All are welcome to this event and no booking is required. More information can be found at: https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/lgbt-history-month-2018/.
There’s still time to book a place for ‘Hearts and Minds: the Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote’, a talk by Jane Robinson at Surrey History Centre on 24th March, 11am – 12.30pm. Places are free and can be booked on our website at: https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/heritage-culture-and-recreation/archives-and-history/surrey-history-centre/heritage-events.
Save the date for our ‘Surrey, Suffrage and the Arts: Past & Present’ event, Sat 19th May at Surrey History Centre, with Dr Lucy Ella Rose speaking about Mary Watts and her suffrage and arts circle in Surrey and beyond, and local artist Mary Branson, will be revealing the story behind her beautiful art installation window, ‘New Dawn‘, at the House of Parliament. More details coming soon!