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Votes for women

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The First World War provided the first opportunity for women to take on traditional male jobs so it isn't surprising that in 1918 women over 30 were given the same political rights as men. But this change was not just a result of war - women had been campaigning for decades to be given the right to vote.

The campaign - the basics

Votes for women was part of a gradual improvement in women's rights that had been going on throughout the 19th century. The movement also campaigned for the right to divorce a husband, the right to education, and the right to have a job such as a doctor. Many women, however, saw the vote as the vital achievement that would give them a say in the laws affecting their lives.

The National Union of Women's Suffrage [Suffrage: The right to vote in political elections. ] Societies - the Suffragists [Suffragists: a member of the NUWSS who wished to obtain the vote through peaceful means - led by Millicent Fawcett ] - was formed in 1897 and led by Millicent Fawcett. The group was made up of mainly middle-class women and campaigned peacefully. The organisation built up supporters in Parliament, but private members' bills to give women the vote all failed.

The Women's Social and Political Union - the Suffragettes [Suffragettes: Members of the women's suffrage movement, which fought to win British women the right to vote. ] - was formed in 1903 and led by Emmeline Pankhurst. Although this group was also middle class, it heckled politicians, held marches, members chained themselves to railings, attacked policemen, broke windows, slashed paintings, set fire to buildings, threw bombs and went on hunger strike when they were sent to prison. One suffragette, Emily Davison, ran out in front of the king's horse during the Derby of 1913 and was killed.

The East London Federation of Suffragettes - formed in 1914 by Sylvia Pankhurst - was made up of working-class women. This group concentrated on social reform, and rejected the violence of the WSPU.

A Suffragist rally

A Suffragist rally in Hyde Park

The NUWSS campaigned peacefully - here Mrs Fawcett is addressing a rally

Women were not given the vote before the war. At the end of the war, in 1918, however, the Representation of the People Act gave women over 30 the vote, and in 1928 this was extended to all women over the age of 21.

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