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 seventeenth – and last:
Mrs Alice Lucas, who stood as a Conservative candidate for the Kennington constituency in London. In fact she was the only woman candidate to stand as a Conservative, having taken over the nomination at the last minute from her husband, who died suddenly in the ‘flu epidemic three days before the election. Lucas had been MP for Lowestoft from 1900 until 1906 and had unsuccessfully contested Kennington in the two 1910 elections. In 1918 neither he nor Mrs Lucas received the Coalition government’s ‘coupon’, which went to the Liberal candidate. Alice Lucas was known in the area, having been chairman of the Lambeth Auxiliary Hospital during the war
Alice Lucas (1853-1924) was a member of a Jewish family and after her nomination a false rumour circulated that she was an enemy alien, born in Germany. This was vigorously denied by her agent. In fact her election address was vehemently anti-German, stating that she wished:
to bring the Kaiser and his associates to trial
to make Germany pay the full cost of the war
to deal most generously with returning soldiers and sailors
and for ‘imprisoned conscientious objectors to remain under government control until it was impossible for them to snatch jobs from returning heroes’ (South London Press, 20 December 1918)
Because she took over the nomination so close to polling day, voting in Kennington was postponed until 20 December when Alice Lucas came second to the Liberal candidate. In fact, by polling 3573 votes she gained 63 more votes for the Conservatives than her husband had polled in December 1910. In 1918 the Liberal winner took 4705 votes and the Labour candidate 2817.
Although Alice Lucas was unsuccessful, it was to be in similar circumstances – that of a woman standing in a seat in which her husband had an interest – that the first woman MP – and several others who closely followed – was to be elected. It was not until 1923, with the election of Margaret Bondfield, that a woman became an MP solely through her own effort.