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This Vote in History

Recently, we have also been celebrating the passing of a limited women’s suffrage bill in 1918 in the UK. Life is not as simple as this however.


It is quixotic that the first time women were formally excluded from voting in the UK was in the Reform Acts of 1832. Before then some women (if they owned property) could vote in many of the ragtag muddled elections that constituted our proto democracy at the time, including parliamentary elections.


This raises, for example, the prospect that the awful Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice could not only try to foist her dim daughter Anne onto Mr Darcy (instead of the beautiful and intelligent Elizabeth Bennet) and be generally horrible to everyone in sight, but as a female property owner she could also vote. But if she had lived (fictionally) until 1832 she would have lost this right. Jane Austen didn’t much do this kind of stuff; she was more interested in those universals, love and money.


So the issue of women’s suffrage is complex and didn’t begin with the pre WW1 suffrage movement; it had always existed in the UK until 1832 in a very limited way.


One way or another though, numerous countries were ahead of the UK on this issue, both in terms of the female vote and female representation. For example, ladies in Wyoming (first in the world), Finland, South Australia, Sweden, New Zealand and the Isle of Man were trudging to the ballot box long before their UK sisters.


Ironically France the home of the world’s first great revolution did not give the vote to women until 1944 under the unlikely aegis of General de Gaulle (from London!). Swiss ladies only came down from the ski slopes to vote in 1971. Contrary to general belief perhaps, Saudi ladies can vote, in municipal elections since 2015.


Watch this space. As Oscar Wilde said “The truth is rarely pure and never simple”.


Peter Craig

Issue 401
April 2018

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