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 sixteenth:
Mrs Oliver Strachey, who was standing as an Independent for the Brentford and Chiswick constituency in Middlesex, supported by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.
Ray Strachey (1887-1940) (née Costelloe) was educated at Newnham College, where she was an active member of the Cambridge University Women’s Suffrage Society. In 1911 she married Oliver Strachey and by 1913 was chairman of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, of which her sister-in-law, Philippa, was secretary. From 1916 until 1921 Ray was honorary parliamentary secretary to the NUWSS, responsible for supervising the passage of the 1918 Representation of the People Act.
Common Cause (20 December 1918) reported that she was asked to stand by ‘a large section of the electors, who were dissatisfied with Col Grant Morden [the candidate backed by the Coalition ‘coupon’]. Her meetings are always crowded. One of the things most widely resented was the sayin gof Col Grant Morden ‘the lady candidate ought to stay at home and look after her kiddies’. Mrs Strachey replied “She wants to go to Parliament in order to look after the kiddies. They need mothers there”; and Mrs Henry Fawcett, speaking on her behalf, has said it would be well to have among the 707 members of the House of Commons someone who knew one end of a baby from the other. The candidate herself, however, is not appealing for support on account of her sex. She is asking the elector for their votes, not because she is a woman, but because “she is a good candidate, and will represent them well.”
In her election address Ray Strachey declared:
I stand as a supporter of the Coalition Government. We have kept a united front during the war, and we must keep that unity until a good and lasting peace shall be established abroad, and until we have built up a t home those measures of reconstruction for which the whole nation waits.
It falls to us now to see that the victory is not in vain. This war must be the last war. I therefore support the establishment of a League of Nations, with such immediate mutual disarmament as is safe, and I trust that the question of the future economic policies and tariffs of the whole world will be settled through the agency of the League itself.
With regard to domestic reforms, I believe that housing is the most urgent and important question before us. In it I see the solution of many pressing social evils.
I attach the greatest importance to the question of the pensions to be paid to those brave men who have won our safety for us, and to the widows of those who have laid down their lives. Their well-being must be a first charge upon the State.
I care also, very particularly for the drastic improvement of industrial conditions, for education, and the care of public health and infant welfare,, and for all those public matters which affect the domestic life of the community.
I make no apology for asking you to vote for a woman. Women have their contribution to make to public thought and public service. I believe, with a profound conviction, that men and women should work together for the progress and good government of the Nation as they must for that of their homes. I hold the interests of men and women are so closely bound up together that they cannot be divided, and that what is for the good of one sex, must certainly be for the good of the other. It is for this reason that I support the perfect equality of men and women in the eyes of the law and the state.
The 20 December issue of Common Cause mentioned that Col Morden, in a bid to undermine her candidature, issued a large poster stating in ‘bold scarlet letters that “A Vote for Strachey is a Vote for the League of Nations”. Mrs Strachey naturally displayed this poster with pride, and explained that the League of Nations was what she did stand for before anything else.’ ..Mrs Strachey’s Committee Rooms were said by impartial witnesses to be the liveliest Committee Rooms in London. Many old friends met there, members of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage came forward gallantly to the fray. Much devoted voluntary work was done by members of the Chiswick branch of the LSWS, some of whom came from distant constituencies in order to have the pleasure of doing voluntary work for Mrs Strachey.’
Alas, despite this effort, Ray Strachey came last in the contest, polling 1263 votes to Col Morden’s 9077, with a Labour candidate taking 2620 votes. She stood again at Chiswick in 1922 and this time in a straight fight with Morden (now a Unionist) polled 7804 votes against his 10,150. In 1923, standing again at Chiswick as an Independent, she took 4828 votes, coming second to Morden, with the Labour candidate polling 3216 votes. She did not stand again for Parliament, but in 1931 became private political secretary to the first woman MP, Lady Astor.