Pamphlet showing NUWSS tree - crop

Women's suffrage timeline

From the first petition to the first female MP, follow the key events during the campaign for female suffrage.
Year  Month Event
1832 August Mary Smith, from Yorkshire, petitions Henry Hunt MP that she and other spinsters should ‘have a voice in the election of Members [of Parliament]’. On 3 August 1832, this became the first women’s suffrage petition to be presented to Parliament.[1]
1866 7 June John Stuart Mill MP presents the first mass women’s suffrage petition to the House of Commons. It contains over 1500 signatures.
1867 January  Manchester National Society for Women's Suffrage (MNSWS) is formed, alongside many other societies in different cities across Britain.
May John Stuart Mill makes an unsuccessful amendment to the Second Reform Bill, which would have granted suffrage to women property holders.
1868 April On 15 April 1868, the MNSWS holds the first ever public meeting about women’s suffrage at the Manchester Free Trade Hall.[2]
1870 December The Married Women's Property Act gives married women the right to own their own property and money.
1880 November  The Isle of Man grants female suffrage in an amendment to the Manx Election Act of 1875.[3]
1894 December The Local Government Act is passed, which allows married and single women to vote in elections for county and borough councils.
1897   The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) is formed, uniting 17 societies. Later led by Milicent Fawcett, the NUWSS favoured peaceful campaign methods such as petitions.

NUWSS pamphlets

Pamphlet showing the branches of the NUWSS

This pamphlet states that ‘the object of the Union [NUWSS] is to obtain the Parliamentary vote for women on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men’.

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1902   Women textile workers from Northern England present a petition to Parliament that contains 37,000 signatures demanding votes for women.
1903 October The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) is formed in Manchester at the home of Emmeline Pankhurst.
1905   The WSPU adopts the motto ‘Deeds not Words’, resulting in the start of militant action by the suffragettes.
1907 February The NUWSS organises their first large procession, where 40 suffragist societies and over 3000 women marched from Hyde Park to Exeter Hall in the rain and mud. It later became known as the 'Mud March'.[4]
8 March The Women’s Enfranchisement Bill (the ‘Dickinson Bill’) is introduced to parliament for its second reading but is talked out.
Dora Thewlis and 75 other suffragettes are arrested when the WSPU attempt to storm the Houses of Parliament.[5]
August Qualification of Women Act is passed, allowing women to be elected onto borough and county councils and as mayor.
Autumn 1-in-5 suffragettes leave the WSPU to join the newly-formed Women’s Freedom League (WFL).[6]
1908 April Herbert Henry Asquith, an anti-suffragist Liberal MP, becomes Prime Minister.
June ‘Women’s Sunday’ demonstration is organised by the WSPU at Hyde Park, London. Attended by 250,000 people from around Britain, it is the largest-ever political rally in London. Ignored by Asquith, suffragettes turn to smashing windows in Downing Street, using stones with written pleas tied to them, and tie themselves to railings.
July The Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League (WASL) is formed by Mrs Humphrey Ward.
1909 July Marion Wallace Dunlop becomes the first imprisoned suffragette to go on hunger strike. Later that year prisons begin to force feed inmates on hunger strike.[7]
October The Women's Tax Resistance League (WTRL) is formed, a direct action group who refused to pay taxes without political representation. Their founding slogan is ‘No vote, no tax’.
 
1910
August The WASL merges with the Men’s National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage. The League now has a total of 42,000 enrolled members.
November The Conciliation Bill, which would grant suffrage for one million women who owned property over the value of £10, is passed by the Commons but fails to become law.
In retaliation, 300 suffragettes from the WSPU march on parliament, where they are met with police brutality, assault and arrests. This day later becomes known as ‘Black Friday’.

Map for a Suffragette march, June 1911

Plan of the route for the Suffragette's Coronation Procession in June 1911

This map shows the route for the Coronation Procession organised by the WSPU in 1911. It shows 'the great demonstration' would begin at Westminster and end at the Albert Hall.

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1911   Emily Wilding Davison avoids the census by hiding in a cupboard in the crypt at the House of Commons.
June On the eve of King George V’s coronation, around 40,000 women from 28 suffrage societies march for female enfranchisement.
November Asquith announces a manhood suffrage bill, which is seen as a betrayal of the women’s suffrage campaign. In protest, the WSPU organises a mass window-smashing campaign through London. This heightened militancy continues into 1912, and spirals to include arson attacks.
1912 March The Parliamentary Franchise (Women) Bill is introduced and defeated by 222 votes to 208.

The Labour Party become the first political party to include female suffrage in their manifesto. This was partly in reaction to the NUWSS’s ‘Election Fighting Fund’, which was set up to help organise the Labour campaign.[8]
1913 April The ‘Cat and Mouse’ Act is introduced (officially titled Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act). It allows authorities to temporarily release suffragettes on hunger strike, and then re-arrest them once they have recuperated.[9]
June Emily Wilding Davison is killed after she steps out in front of the King’s horse at Epsom Derby. A member of WSPU, she intended to disrupt the Derby for the suffrage cause, though her exact motives are unknown. Thousands attend her funeral.
18 June - 25 July 50,000 people from around the UK take part in the NUWSS’s ‘Pilgrimage for Women’s Suffrage’, which concludes with a rally in Hyde Park. The NUWSS wanted to display the suffragists’ peaceful, law-abiding tactics.[10]
December As part of her involvement with WTRL, Sophia Duleep Singh is taken to court over her refusal to pay taxes.
1914   The East London Federation of Suffragettes is expelled from the WSPU after Christabel Pankhurst claims that they are too concerned with other causes – such as living and working conditions.
  The NUWSS reaches 50,000 members; the WSPU has 5,000 members.[11]
May The WSPU clash with police outside of the gates to Buckingham Palace, when Emmeline Pankhurst attempts to present a petition to King George V.
July The outbreak of World War One brings a suspension to the WSPU’s and NUWSS’s campaigns. Women are urged to support the war effort, and they do, as during this period nearly 5 million women remain or enter into employment.[12]
1916
Asquith makes a declaration of allegiance to women’s enfranchisement.
December David Lloyd George, a Liberal MP, replaces Asquith as Prime Minister.
1918 February The Representation of the People Bill is passed, allowing women over the age of 30 and men over the age of 21 to vote. Women have to be married to or a member of the Local Government Register.
November The Parliamentary Qualification of Women Act is passed, enabling women to stand as MPs.
1919 March Millicent Fawcett retires as President of the NUWSS, when it becomes the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship.
November Nancy Astor takes her seat in the Houses of Commons, as the first female MP for Britain. In 1918 Constance Markiewicz stands for Sinn Fein and becomes the first woman elected to Westminster, but in line with Sinn Fein politics declines to take the seat.
1928 July The Representation of the People Act entitles everyone over the age of 21 to vote.
1929 May Women over the age of 21 vote in their first general election. There is no majority, but Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour party take over from the Conservatives.

Footnotes

[1] ‘Imperial parliament of Great Britain and Ireland’, Morning Chronicle, (No. 19,638, 4 August 1832), p. 1.

[2] ‘The Women’s Suffrage Question’, Morning Post (No. 29,438, 16 April 1868), p. 7.

[3] M A Butler and J Templeton, ‘The Isle of Man and the First Votes for Women’, Women & Politics (4:2, 1984), pp. 33–47.

[4] J Marlow, ed., Suffragettes: The Fight for Votes for Women (London, 2000).

[5] ‘Another Suffragist Raid’, Morning Post (No. 42,065, 21 March 1907), p. 7.

[6] Jill Liddington, Rebel Girls, (London, 2006), p. 67.

[7] KevinGrant,  ‘British Suffragettes and the Russian Method of Hunger Strike’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 53, no. 1 (2011), pp. 113–143.

[8] Paula Bartley, Votes for Women, 1860-1928 (Oxon, 2003), p. 85.

[9] An Act to provide for the Temporary Discharge of Prisoners whose further detention in prison is undesirable on account of the condition of their health’, 1913 Cat and Mouse Act, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PU/1/1913/3&4G5c4 (1913).

[10] Leslie Parker Hume, The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies 1897-1914 (London, 1982), pp.198–99.

[11] Julia Bush, Women against the vote: Female anti-suffragism in Britain (Oxford, 2007), p. 3.

[12] Gail Braybon, Women workers in the First World War (Oxon, 2012).

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