February 6th 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the first women to get the vote.
It is easy to forget that it took decades of campaigning and a world war to propel women into polling stations. Almost every year from the first petition in 1866 to 1918 Parliament received petitions or Bills seeking votes for women.
Finally, Parliament voted by 385 to 55 to give some women the vote. The large margin of support masked the struggle that was waged for decades.
Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett, who led the campaign for women’s suffrage, are now famous. A statue to Fawcett will be unveiled in Parliament square. But Doncaster women were part of it too.
In 1908, the Doncaster organiser of the Doncaster Women’s Social and Political Union, Lina Lambert, held a public meeting in Doncaster Market Place. The hostility the women faced became so violent, they had to seek refuge in a furniture shop. The following night, their meeting was all but broken up by groups of men.
An open air meeting addressed by Adela Pankhurst was again met with such disruption, the police had to escort Pankhurst to her lodgings in Printing Office Street.
Some in the suffrage movement, like the Doncaster Women’s Social and Political Union, supported direct action. Lina Lambert appeared in court in Leeds in October 1908, having caused disturbances during a visit by Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. Refusing to be bound over, the women were sent to jail for five days.
In 1913, suffragettes were accused of trying to blow up Wheatley Hall. The same year, Lilian Lenton pleaded guilty to trying to blow up Westfield House in Balby. She was jailed and released after going on hunger strike. Several Doncaster suffragettes were jailed on multiple occasions and went on the run from police.
The 1918 Act enabled 8.5million women over 30 who owned property, or who were married to a registered elector, to vote; a restriction to ensure that women would not outnumber men. Within months, an Act allowed women to stand for Parliament.
A breakthrough it was. Within ten years, all women and men over 21 were able to vote.
I was elected in 1997, only the 201st women MP ever. Today, the total is 489 (compared to 4,682 men elected since 1918). There are 442 men in this Parliament alone.
Knocking on doors in Don Valley, I’ve met women whose mothers and grandmothers were suffragettes. Women holding hands with history.
I stand on the shoulders of brave women who faced violence, imprisonment and risk to life to secure my right to vote.
I hope the anniversary reminds every woman of why they should vote. Women’s votes mattered in 1918. They still do today.
MP for Don Valley