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Women’s suffrage: How Islington’s first female voters ‘outnumbered men at every polling station in 1918 election’

PUBLISHED: 14:25 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 17:18 06 February 2018

The Islington Daily Gazette's reporting of the 1918 General Election. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

The Islington Daily Gazette's reporting of the 1918 General Election. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

Archant

If the Gazette’s pages 100 years ago are anything to go by, Islington’s first women voters were treated as something of a spectacle at the 1918 General Election.

The Islington Daily Gazette's reporting of the 1918 General Election. Picture: Islington Local History CentreThe Islington Daily Gazette's reporting of the 1918 General Election. Picture: Islington Local History Centre

This paper, then the Islington Daily Gazette, sent reporters to people-watch at polling stations on Saturday, December 14.

It was, of course, the first election since the Representation of the People Act, which was passed on this day 100 years ago. It gave some women – those over 30 – the right to vote for the first time. There were 17,000 in Islington North alone.

“It was apparent early in the day that a considerable number of women were bent upon voting,” one breathless reporter said in the Monday edition two days later.

“During the morning it was not an uncommon sight to see a queue of women lined up at the entrance of the polling station.

“Many were obviously nervous. One woman in west Islington, evidently contemplating severe cross-examination, had brought her marriage lines and National Registration card.

“Another woman expressed the hope that it would not take long to record her vote as she had left the dinner on the stove.

“Several women went to the polling station when out doing their Saturday shopping.

“Women voters polled heavily. At every station they appeared to outnumber the men.”

Women were viewed with what might have been caution in a Gazette editorial two days before the poll. It said: “Women are voting for the first time at this General Election, and everyone is curious, and no one certain, as to what they will do.

“On the whole, they are apt to judge a man by his character and capacity rather than by his speeches, and some glib-tongued candidates will perhaps have a painful surprise when they read the figures of the first poll taken under Women’s Suffrage.”

But earlier that year, another Gazette editorial on February 7 – the day after the Representation of the People Act was passed – gave this paper’s backing to wider suffrage.

“We do not by any means derogate from the rights of the general British electorate as a self-governing democracy,” it said, “and we think that full practical recognition should be accorded to the just claims of the new voters whom Parliament is about to enfranchise.

“There can be no doubt that the old electorate as a whole cordially approves the decision of Parliament in this matter.”

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