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 ninth:
(image courtesy of Mirror Online)
Mrs Janet McEwan, who stood as a Liberal in the Enfield constituency in Middlesex, having taken the place of her husband, John McEwan, as prospective candidate after a breakdown in his health. John McEwan presided over the first campaign meeting that she held in Enfield in early December 1918. Janet (or Jenny) McEwan (1860-1921), mother of five, had been an active member of the Free Church League for Women’s Suffrage, holding drawing-room meetings at her home, ‘Carisbrooke’, Culloden Road, Enfield.
Janet McEwan had worked for many years ‘at the maternity centres and on the care committees, the education organisations, and the numerous local agencies which seek to give help wisely where it is needed.
She seeks to place the understanding born of experience and first-hand knowledge at the service of her country in the wider sphere of Westminster. She declares that Parliament will be better for the presence of women, and the work of reconstruction more wisely carried out if men and women of all parties work together in friendly co-operation. ‘(The Vote, 6 December 1918.)
Although Janet McEwan supported the Coalition Government, the Coalition’s backing (its ‘coupon’) had been given to the Unionist candidate, making her chances of success slim. She was reported in Common Cause (13 December 1918) as saying:
It is urgently required that women in general should be stirred from their apathy and led to realise the responsibility upon them to record their votes. There are indications that the poll will be a very small one in proportion to the large electorate. Workers and canvassers are almost unobtainable. This seat might be won by a women if adequate help could be thrown into the division on Polling Day.
Alas, Mrs McEwan suffered the fate of many other unsupported Liberals, and came a poor third (with 1987 votes) behind the Unionist (8290 votes) and the Labour (6176) candidates. She never had a chance of repeating her candidature, dying in 1921, before the next General Election.