Myth: Suffragettes won votes for women

The myths 

  • Votes for women were gained for the first time in the UK in 1918 following a campaign by ‘The Suffragettes’.
  • Women had to fight for the vote as men opposed it.

Dispelling the myths

The groups

  • The Suffragists were formed in 1897 and campaigned by lawful and peaceful means.
  • The Suffragettes were formed in 1903 and used bombs, arson and other terror tactics.

Both groups suspended their activity during WW1.

The 1918 Act

The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave the vote to all men over 21 and all women over 30.

From 1885 – 1918, only men with property had the vote, so 44% of men had no vote.

The primary motivation for the Act was that millions of men returning from fighting for their country had no vote.  Votes for women had already been agreed by 1910 (see below) and was included in the Act.

Did men oppose women having the vote?

John Stuart Mill put the case in parliament for women’s suffrage in 1867

In the 1905 Parliament, 400 out of 650 MPs were in favour of votes for women.  In 1910 and 1911 Bills passed the Commons to give women the vote, but did not become law.  The first was stalled by a general election and the second because the Liberal Prime Minister Asquith, who had a 1-seat majority, feared that the female voters would vote Conservative as the Suffragettes demanded votes only for women with property.

So, most men and most men in the Commons were in favour of votes for women.

Was the militant action of the Suffragettes crucial?

Probably not. The Suffragettes were a much smaller group than the Suffragists and were in existence for a much shorter time.  Votes for women had already been achieved in New Zealand  (1893) and in many other countries without militant action.

The road to universal franchise

This graph shows how men and women got the vote in the UK. Note that nearly half of men had no vote prior to the 1918 Act.

Votes for Women

A journalist is researching for an article about votes for women and finds the evidence is significantly different from the common narrative of women struggling against men and finally achieving their objective through militant action.