Votes for Women
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Arguments for women voting

Women over the last century had gained many rights

  • education - school and university
  • married women had control of their property
  • employment

So why not the vote?

  • The vote would get rid of inequalities
  • It would improve men's moral behaviour towards women
  • Other countries have given women the vote
  • Britain is not a true democracy until women have the vote
  • Women pay taxes and rents along with men

Arguments against women voting

  • Women don't want the vote
  • Women and men have 'separate spheres'
  • The idea that men are suited to the 'public sphere' - work, politics, etc. whilst women are suited to the 'domestic sphere' - families, home life, etc. Therefore, women should not vote in elections.
  • Women are already represented by their husbands
  • It is dangerous to change a system that already works
  • Women don't fight for their country

This video looks at the the history of votes for women.


The Suffragists was a combination of different women's societies which joined together in 1897 to make the National Union of Women's Suffrage (NUWSS). Millicent Fawcett was their leader.

What methods did they use?

  • Used peaceful methods:Gave out leaflets
  • Organised petitions
  • Set up meetings to get support
  • At every election, they asked MPs what their view was on women getting the vote

How successful were the Suffragists?

  • The Labour Party supported them
  • Helped to raise public awareness and gradually began to persuade people
  • Managed to get several suffrage bills proposed to Parliament between 1900 and 1914
  • Kept women's suffrage in the public eye
  • By 1914, it had 400 branches and 100,000 members
  • Several male members
  • Good at propaganda such as newspapers, petitions, letters to MPs, and rallies
  • However, they failed to get the vote until after WW1
  • Mainly middle class membership

The Suffragettes

Set up by Emmeline Pankhurst. The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).

What methods did they use?

  • Caused a fuss at Liberal and Conservative meetings
  • In response to Suffrage bills failing in 1907 and 1908, their campaign became more militant

This included:

  • Chaining themselves to the railings in Downing street
  • Throwing stones through the Prime Ministers window
  • How successful were the Suffragettes

After the failure of the Conciliation Bill in 1911, they became even more violent with:

  • Smashed windows
  • Set fire to post boxes
  • Bombed churches
  • Cut telephone wires
  • Slashed paintings
  • Hunger Strikes

How successful were the Suffragettes?

They failed to get the vote by 1914 and divided the women’s movement turning some MPs against female suffrage. 

MPs didn't want to give in otherwise the Irish would use violence to get home rule and workers would use violent strikes to get more money. They made sure the issue of female suffrage was never forgotten. 

  • Effective campaigns – their newspaper ‘Votes for Women’ had a circulation of 40,000 by 1914
  • People admired them because they suffered for their cause
  • Gained sympathy from being force fed

Women in the First World War

What jobs did women do and how did attitudes change?

By 1916 Britain was short of 2 million workers as the men had gone away to fight in the war. Factories were not keen to employ women as they thought:

  • they would not carry the necessary skills
  • it would cause a problem to the unions

1916 was a turning point

  • Britain was short of engineering workers
  • The Government got women to work in its own munitions factories
  • The Government persuaded employers to give the women their jobs

By 1918 800,000 women worked in engineering jobs, they learnt quickly and were just as skilled as men. Working in munitions factories was dangerous, shifts got longer and longer, accidents were common, e.g... explosions at silver town.

Women working with TNT were called canaries and medical reports said that they suffered serious long health problems. As World War I carried on more and more women took on mens jobs and peoples attitudes began to change.

Women worked as bus conductors, postal workers and farm workers etc. 1.6 million people dug graves, laid roads or became welders and steel workers. Women served as nurses near the front line trenches and they joined the salvation army and went to help volunteers in France. Unmarried women mostly worked in the factories whilst married women mostly took on their husbands jobs.

After World War I many people's attitudes towards women had changed, the position of women would never be the same again.

Why did women get vote after war?

  • Women played huge role in keeping the country operational and able to fight
  • Took jobs previously thought incapable of handling
  • Had to fill positions as many men overseas fighting
  • Proved men’s equal in employment and other aspects, became more widely accepted
  • Women’s contribution seen and appreciated by all
  • Efforts of women gave politicians perfect opportunity to expand franchise to include women
  • Didn’t lose face by changing position on female votes
  • Even Asquith changed mind and had become in favour of female votes
  • Politicians already accepting that franchise needed changing after war
  • Many soldiers would have been ineligible to vote having been out of country fighting
  • Introduction of women could now be easily done whilst changing franchise
  • Coalition government gave less fear to parties of who women would vote for
  • No better time to introduce women than when coalition in power as less political ground to be lost
  • Many MPs in coalition were sympathetic to female franchise
  • Andrew Bonar Law and Arthur Henderson had been promoted to cabinet
  • Lloyd George (pro female franchise) had taken position of PM from Asquith

What did women receive?

Representation of the People act February 1918

  • Women over age of 30 given vote
  • Women over age of 30 allowed to become MPs
  • All men over 21 given right to vote
  • Did not receive equality to men
  • Women under 30 still considered to be unworthy of vote as would waste it through irrational behaviour
  • Majority of women helping during war and risking most in dangerous roles were under 30 and were left out of vote
  • Government worried if handed all women the vote they would become dominant force in politics as had majority


  • A start from which to precede
  • Recognition from government for women’s role during war
  • Women finally becoming accepted as equals and not inferior sex

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