To all men and some women at long last

At least this nonsense about quoting Emmeline Pankhurst saying “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” has prompted me to refresh my memory on the history.

Here’s a fact sheet from the UK Parliament itself:

During 1916-1917, the House of Commons Speaker, James William Lowther, chaired a conference on electoral reform which recommended limited women’s suffrage.

Only 58% of the adult male population was eligible to vote before 1918. An influential consideration, in addition to the suffrage movement and the growth of the Labour Party, was the fact that only men who had been resident in the country for 12 months prior to a general election were entitled to vote.

This effectively disenfranchised a large number of troops who had been serving overseas in the war. With a general election imminent, politicians were persuaded to extend the vote to all men and some women at long last.

In 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed which allowed women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification to vote. Although 8.5 million women met this criteria, it only represented 40 per cent of the total population of women in the UK.

The same act abolished property and other restrictions for men, and extended the vote to all men over the age of 21. Additionally, men in the armed forces could vote from the age of 19. The electorate increased from eight to 21 million, but there was still huge inequality between women and men.

All men could vote, but only 40% of women could. That seems odd on the face of it. I wonder what the thinking was. That it turns out men are all capable of voting, but women, oddly enough, are capable of voting only if they have some money? I mean once they drop the property requirement for men, it seems bizarre to retain it for women while at the same time granting [propertied] women the vote for the first time. Guys! The logic is the same! If you drop the property requirement for men you might as well drop it for women. You’ll only have to go back and fix it in the end, which will make you look silly.

It was not until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women over 21 were able to vote and women finally achieved the same voting rights as men. This act increased the number of women eligible to vote to 15 million.

Note that the franchise was not restricted to white women. I had someone on Facebook tell me it was, earlier today. Nope.

From the BBC:

The suffragettes, a name given to them by the newspaper The Daily Mail, were born out of the suffragist movement. Emmeline Pankhurst, who had been a member of the Manchester suffragist group, had grown impatient with the middle class, respectable, gradualist tactics of the NUWSS. In 1903 she decided to break with the NUWSS and set up a separate society. This became known as the¬†Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).

In other words she was a…what’s the word, students? A…? A rrrrrr…?

A rebel! That is correct. She was a rebel against middle class, respectable, gradualist tactics.

Mrs Pankhurst believed it would take an active organisation, with young working class women, to draw attention to the cause. The motto of the suffragettes was deeds not words and from 1912 onwards they became more militant and violent in their methods of campaign. Law-breaking, violence and hunger strikes all became part of this society’s campaign tactics.

With young working class women. Pretty rebellious for a woman of her class. But of course it’s true that she doesn’t measure up to the perfect, glistening, unimprovable political views of today’s Young Intersectionalists.

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