Today, 6th February 2018, marks 100 years of some (but not all) British women gaining the right to vote. The Representation of the People Act, introduced in 1918, enabled select women over the age of 30, who owned property or were graduates voting in a university constituency to have a say in elections for the first time. Eight and a half million women were added to the electoral roll as a result.
It was the first in a series of milestones towards achieving democratic equality for women in the UK. The women's suffrage movement continued its work and by 1928, all women over 21 were eligible to vote. Following the 2017 general election, there were 208 elected female MPs (out of 650 seats) in parliament.
To celebrate the centenary, we've asked women from every decade over the last 100 years to share their experiences of voting for the first time and how they feel about this landmark occasion.
"I definitely will vote when I’m of age because I think it’s important to have a voice in society and voting helps achieve that.
It’s only fair that those who must obey the law have a voice in making them, it’s a right that some women died to receive. The 100-year anniversary of women winning the vote reminds me that it wasn’t that long ago that women didn’t have this right, it’s quite empowering to see how far we’ve come."
"I vote because I don’t think it is fair to complain that we don’t have a voice and then waste our chance to put our opinion forward. We are so used to having the right to vote, that many of us do not use it. And that’s our right, our prerogative. However, if we were suddenly told women could not vote, there would be the biggest uproar – even from those who didn’t vote when they had the chance – so it is quite a big milestone, that women have been able to vote for 100 years now.
My most memorable voting experience was probably Brexit. I couldn't understand how people could vote Leave. Anyone who eats in a restaurant or gets coffee or goes to a shop is most likely being served by people from outside of the UK. Many British people refuse or don’t want the jobs that people from other countries gladly take. So I remember feeling so much anger and passion for that. I absolutely hated the man who stood outside our polling station with ‘Vote Leave’ badges. He was silent and peaceful but it angered me even so."
"I can remember being really excited the first time I got to vote and practically sprinted to my old school to cast my ballot. But it’s only now that I am a (bit) older and (bit) wiser that I truly realise how important it is. It really does my head in when women don’t use their vote – we get short-changed enough as it is being a woman, so when we have a chance to make our voices heard, we should grab it with both hands.
The 2010 election was a bittersweet one for me and the most memorable for all the wrong reasons. Having always voted Labour I decided to vote Lib Dem as I really believed in Nick Clegg’s message and naively thought he could bring about change. I also managed to convince the rest of my lifelong Labour family to take a punt on him too, so imagine my horror when the Lib Dems joined forces with the Tories… While it was a gutting result, it is also the reason I love elections because you never know what is going to happen and everything can be turned on its head in one day."
"The first time I voted in a general election was 1987 – it was widely hoped that the Labour party would oust the Conservatives after eight years in power. It was one of the first elections that young people were involved in. It was greatly disappointing when the government did not change. The 1997 election was amazing – the Labour landslide, the huge amount of women MPs elected and a general hope of change was fantastic. I think it was the first election I ever stayed up the whole night, open-mouthed, as the political landscape changed.
It’s amazing to think it was only 100 years ago... The women who fought for our right to vote were pilloried – mocked in advertising & ‘joke’ editorials, shunned by their families and they still did not give up. At a time when voting rates are so low, I think the anniversary is a good reminder – it really should be a rallying call for all people to exercise their right to ask for change."
"My mum was 3 years old before women got the right to vote – I still find that unbelievable. Not voting would never occur to me. I would haul myself round to the polling booth in any weather for any local or national election.
My feelings about my right to vote have never changed. I will never take it for granted. My feelings and views about the system and political parties have evolved and I feel much better informed than when I was 18. It is easy to feel apathetic but I hope the close call on the [EU] referendum and the implications made people realise that every single vote does count. I turned 18 in January 1979 and had my first vote in the general election that May. It was a bit of a watershed moment because for the first time it gave the opportunity for a woman to lead the country as PM. It made the chance to vote more meaningful to me as a young woman but that first vote also made me feel I was leaving my childhood behind. I was a bit naïve and probably wasn’t as well informed as I should have been. I took most of my political knowledge from my parents who had lived through the Second World War, and that coloured their thinking."
"I always vote. I mean, why wouldn’t every woman in this country vote? I vote because the suffragettes, women from all classes, all parts of the country and all life experiences were kicked, beaten, locked up, treated as common criminals, went on hunger strike and were fed by force – to try and force the so-called Liberal government to enfranchise women.
We can only vote now because of what they sacrificed. They did it for us, and we have to honour them by voting.
I remember the first time I voted. I was born in the 1950s, so it would have been in the late '70s. I was probably wearing clogs and denim dungarees. I do remember feeling nervous, excited and serious about putting the slip into the ballot box. Up to that point the only suffragette I had heard of was Emily Davison, who threw herself in front of the King’s horse.
I know a lot more about her and her comrades now
and what a thrill that is."
Voting counts, of course it does, it always has. It has been privilege throughout the ages that has bestowed enfranchisement. The battle for universal franchise is still being fought. Voting is not a privilege, it is a human right.
It is also important not to forget that recognition of the incalculable contribution by women to the WW1 effort clinched the deal for the female franchise, which was far from universal. My most memorable election was in the South African election in 1994; the first with universal adult suffrage. My South African Identity Document allowed me to vote from London; my colleagues in the busy A&E unit covered me at work, so I could queue at South Africa House; a vicarious group vote, they said. The slow-moving, long and winding queue meant that I could not get back to work long past my shift’s end. Over the inevitable celebratory drink later, the sense of hope was infectious. Martin Luther King said that everything in the world is done by hope. We still need to hold on to that.
"By far the most memorable election in my lifetime was that 1994 election in South Africa in which, for the very first time, everyone was allowed to vote. Around the world we watched as long queues of optimistic South Africans snaked in the searing sunlight just so delighted to have such an important right...the sight made people like me re-evaluate something I have taken for granted all my life – even if I have been resolute in using my right to vote.
I’m delighted that the centenary celebrations of female suffrage in the UK are reminding us all what a fight it was – how violent, how strongly resisted, how grudgingly granted, but what is depressing is how slowly things have changed in the ensuing 100 years. Anyone looking from another planet would be amazed that so long after women won the vote, we were still fighting for equal pay and equal respect."
"Voting is a democratic and legitimate way of expressing support for, or opposition to, those who govern us; protests can be effective, but they are not a substitute for voting. The right to vote, for all women and many men, was a long time coming, so we have a duty to exercise it.
History suggests that, by 1918, the time to give women the vote was more than ripe, and that this would have happened anyway; indeed, there is a suggestion that the perceived excesses of the movement may have delayed the inevitable. Most women had had the vote for more than 40 years by the time I first voted, by then no big deal. I suppose I took it for granted. Oh, how Brexit drives everything else out of one’s head! Having been a Lib Dem voter for most of their existence, 2010 was a significant election for me. I actually thought the coalition was good, until it all went pear-shaped. We could do with a coalition now – but in what combination?"
"I vote because those women did really brave things to get the vote and now that we have it we have as much right as men. Otherwise it would be a bit unbalanced, wouldn't it? You've got to have different opinions in politics and people will want different things to be put through. Unless you put your vote in, you haven't done your bit.
I've got to be honest, I didn't realise it was 100 years since women won the right to vote, but it's right that we celebrate these brave women. You can't have just the man's point of view, can you? Women have gone on to show that they can participate and stand up and be counted. I remember the 1945 election when I was too young to vote. Most people thought Churchill was automatically going to be prime minister again – everyone looked up to him very much during the war. I remember thinking it very strange that Labour won, that was a shock to everyone. They still talk about it now."
"It was difficult to decide how to vote when I was young because I didn’t feel very well informed, so I used to look for the person I thought was the most statesmanlike. I still vote now because I can see the difference that committed people can make for the good of society, particularly at the local level.
Being born in 1926, I don’t have any memories of women becoming able to vote but I do think that it’s good that more women are becoming politicians. Women have a very different perspective on life to men and it is important that their values and convictions are reflected in the decisions we make. The vote I feel the strongest about was the vote we shouldn’t have been asked to make – the EU referendum. It has become clear that very few people knew what their vote would actually mean. The politicians on both sides did a bad job of informing us... We seem to waste an enormous amount of effort, time and money on leaving, when there are so many other issues we ought to be focusing on."