Cllr Linda Woodings, Nottingham City Councillor for Basford ward and Executive Assistant for Communications and Community Safety, kicks off our Centenary Cities blog by telling us why the centenary of women’s suffrage is important to her…
My mum died last week, at the grand old age of 95 (she had me very late in life!), and so I’ve spent the last week trying to get in touch with her friends and acquaintances. As my sister and I went through her address book we realised she was the last of ‘her’ generation.
Born in 1922 to farm labourers, neither her mother nor her grandmother had any right to vote for the men who made the law at that time – laws that affected every aspect of their lives.
So it’s with great poignancy that I celebrate the women, some middle class, some working class, who fought for me and all other women to have a vote.
On the 6th of February 1918 the Representation of the People Act came into law giving all women over 30, who owned (or their husbands owned) property, a vote for the first time. One reason for limiting this to only certain women was that, because of the toll of lives in the Great War (the First World War), if all women had been given the vote they would have substantially outnumbered men. But there was also a deeper more fundamental reason; women were not seen as clever enough or important enough to have a vote – they were second class citizens.
Looking back it’s very hard for us, let along young people, to understand the sense of privilege women felt in going to the polling station to vote. My own mum made sure I was on the electoral register, took me down to the local polling station, told me what to do when I got there (although she would never dream of telling me who to vote for). It was a matter of principle.
In the 21st Century most of us can only imagine a time where women had no legal status, no rights over their own children, no ability to divorce except for the wealthiest (and only in the cruellest of circumstances).
But the passing of the Representation of the People Act started to change all that.
Getting the law through was not an easy thing to achieve. Thousands of women campaigned and fought, some peacefully, some with acts of civil disobedience, some with acts of violence (and suicide). Many were imprisoned, went on hunger strike, were force fed, beaten by the police, condemned by their neighbours and friends.
One hundred years on we commemorate and give thanks to those courageous women. Today we fight new battles, for equal pay, equal representation in parliament, fairer pensions, more women on the boards of companies and respect and dignity in the workplace.
So much done, so much more to do – but it’s good to stop for a moment and say ‘THANK YOU SISTERS’.