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Did the war make a difference?

When some women got the vote in 1918 after over half a century of campaigning, was it really World War One that had finally swung the balance in their favour?

There are many different opinions.

A change of Prime Minister had significantly boosted the chances of suffragist campaigners to be heard. By 1918 after the recommendations of the Speaker's Conference and the urgent need for electoral reform, both Houses were more receptive to the idea of women voters.

Suffrage societies may have stopped militant agitation, but they never stopped campaigning for the vote during the war years. Political activism underpinned their activities, and they used their existing networks and experience to organise their members in a variety of war work and to found new initiatives to help and support those in need at home and abroad.

However many of these initiatives were not supported or recognised by the Government until the last years of the war, and the idea that some women were enfranchised as a reward for their services in wartime is not persuasive, especially as much of the work undertaken was by women too young or too poor to benefit from the new legislation.

What the war did do was make women's work and labour visible and valuable at every level of society. Those given the opportunity to enter new professions and learn new skills also gained confidence in themselves, their economic value and their political agency.

In 2018 the centenary of the partial franchise gives us an opportunity to reflect on the whole campaign for votes for women, and the challenges to equality that still remain.


'This is the House that Man Built' postcard showing a female and male MP. The sender has written "Will we ever live to see this"



Catalogue number

Curator's Office Reference Collection