21 November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Parliament(Qualification of Women) Act, by which women were for the first time able to stand for election as members of Parliament.
It was only earlier in the year, on 6 February, that some women (over 30 and fulfilling a small property qualification) had at long last been granted the parliamentary vote and now, as the Great War had come to an end, women actually had the prospect of sitting in the House of Commons.
The short bill, passing rapidly through all stages of the parliamentary process with little opposition, granted the right to stand for election to all women over the age of 21, although any woman of that age would have been unable to vote. A curious situation.
With a general election called for 14 December, there was little time for women to organize election campaigns, but in the event 17 women took to the hustings. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll tell you something about each one of these pioneers, taking them alphabetically.
This is the eighth:
Mrs Pethick Lawrence, who was standing as a Labour candidate in the Rusholme constituency of Manchester.
Emmeline Pethick Lawrence had been one of the leaders of the Women’s Social and Political Union until, in the autumn of 1912, ousted, along with her husband, Frederick, after they had both spent a term in prison on a charge of conspiracy to commit damage. They then set up a new organisation, the Votes for Women Fellowship, centring around their paper, Votes for Women. In July 1914 the Pethick Lawrences joined the United Suffragists and gave their paper to the new society.
During the First World war Emmeline Pethick Lawrence was one of those women who backed the idea of a negotiated peace and was one of only three British women able to attend the Women’s Peace Congress, held in the Hague in 1915. She worked for peace during the remainder of the war and when she stood at the 1918 General Election her platform was partly devoted to the idea that the only chance for permanent peace in Europe was a just settlement with Germany.
In her Election Address on domestic matters she wrote:
Social Reconstruction is the business of the next Parliament. I support the resolutions adopted at the Labour Conference of June 1918. These include:
- The Restitution of Trade Union Conditions.
- National Scheme of Housing carried out with capital supplied by National Government.
- National Non-Militaristic Education on basis of social equality from nursery school to University.
- Prevention of Unemployment.
- Minimum Wage.
- Equal Pay for Equal Work.
- Increased Old-Age Pensions.
- Nationalisation of Railways, Shipping, Canals, Mines, Banks, and Land.
- Nationalisation of the Drink Traffic.
- Abolition o the Poor Law and Development of Municipal Health Service.
- Free Trade and the Open Door in Commerce.
- Admission of women to full political rights on an equality with men.
- Pensions for Mother, who, deprived of the breadwinner of the family,, have to tend and provide for dependent children.
Repeal of Repressive Legislation
- I stand for the immediate repeal of Military Conscription and of every form of Industrial Conscription, believing Conscription to be the supreme expression of arbitrary force in contra-distinction to self-governing freedom.
- For the Repeal of D.O.R.A.
- For the immediate restoration of civil liberties.
- The immediate release of all political prisoners.
The vital question of sex morality can only be dealt with my men and women taking counsel together.
Rusholme was a new seat created in Manchester. In the event Emmeline Pethick Lawrence came third, polling 2985 votes, not far behind the Liberal candidate with 3690 votes. The winning Unionist candidate took 12,447 votes
The Vote, the paper of the Women’s Freedom League, carried a post-election piece in its 17 January 1919 issue, in which Mrs Pethick Lawrence declared: ‘that candidates should make a closer study of the psychology of their electors. Feeling counts infinitely more than opinions at great national crises. Last month the electors were actuated for the most part by a passion for justice, expressed in the minds of many by the demand for “the hanging of the Kaiser”. Appeals to enlightened self-interest,, the prospects of better housing, better wages – nothing moved them as much as this passionate devotion to an idea. “We have learnt at this election we must study the feelings and ideals of the people.”‘ Polling day, Mrs Pethick Lawrence declared, was the happiest day of her life in seeing women carrying out the rights of citizenship, even though the vote of the young and enthusiastic women is still to come.’
Emmeline Pethick Lawrence continued to campaign on women’s issues for the rest of her life , becoming president of the Women’s Freedom League and a vice-president of the Six Point Group.