How Women Received the FULL Vote

The women’s suffrage movement remains as poignant a piece of history today as much as ever. Comparing Britain and the United States, it is clear that the subject is one that concerns race and social status as much as it does gender. The key events of suffrage in Britain and the United States can be viewed through numerous old newspapers, but a summary of this timeline can be read below.

Ever since the 1832 Reform Act, all men over the age of 21 had the right to vote in the UK. The only caveat to this was that they must be a property owner. As the years went on, there was more and more mounting pressure for the law to be changed and extend the vote to women and the working classes.

When the first mass women’s suffrage petition, containing 1,500 women’s signatures, was presented to the House of Commons in June 1866, the name of one black woman was included. Sarah Parker Remond was an African American who had been giving anti-slavery lectures in England since early 1859. Remond’s stance on suffrage mirrored that of her anti-slavery message, all people deserved the basic right to be viewed as equal within any society.

Fellow abolitionist, and former slave, Sojourner Truth was meanwhile touring the United States, giving lectures promoting equality and challenging the concepts of gender and race inferiority. In 1867, Truth was lecturing at the American Equal Rights Association, solidifying her stance that the black vote and the women’s vote should be granted together.

“I feel that I have the right to have just as much as a man. There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and colored women not theirs, the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.”

That same year, the UK legislation known as the Representation of the People Act 1867, or Second Reform Act went into effect. This allowed men over the age of 21 who lived within a borough to vote, meaning the vote was no longer monopolized by the upper classes. The number of people eligible to vote doubled, though still only allowed 2.5 million people out of a total UK population of around 30 million.

Though the Married Women’s Property Act which was passed in 1870 gave married women the right to own their own property and money, voters were still only allowed to be male. In 1884, a Third Reform was introduced, extending the vote to men above the age of 21 who lived within counties. This extension of boundary lines for voters meant that two thirds of all men could now vote. Still only around 18% of the British population.

Following the end of World War One, as many of the returning soldiers would not be eligible it was felt that all men had earned the right to vote. When the Representation of the People Act of 1918 was passed, the first women were also finally given the vote. There was no specific caveat on the right to vote regarding race, though the women eligible to vote must be over the age of 30 and the owner of (or wife to the owner of) property. This meant that two thirds of women in the UK could now also vote, though the chances of these women being from BAME heritage was slim to none.

The majority of women of colour would need to wait a further ten years before they could vote in Britain as young and working class women would only be included in the enfranchisement of the vote within the Representation of the People Act (1928).

In America, all women were awarded the right to vote in August 1920, regardless of skin colour. This made America the 25th country worldwide to award full enfranchisement, eight years before Britain did so.

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