Key dates

The Great Reform Act excludes women from the electorate by defining voters as 'male persons'

First petition on women's suffrage presented to Parliament

First debate on women's suffrage in Parliament, led by John Stuart Mill 

Women campaign to be included in the Third Reform Act, without success

The Women's Franchise League is formed and aims to win the vote for married women as well as single and widowed women

Formation of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), led by Millicent Fawcett (1847-1929), drawing together peaceful campaign groups under one banner

The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) is founded in Manchester by Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)

Suffragette militancy begins

The Women's Freedom League is formed after a break from the WSPU

Hunger striking by Marion Wallace-Dunlop adopted as a WSPU strategy. Forcible-feeding begins

Parliament considers various 'Conciliation Bills' which would have given some women the vote, but none pass

The suffragette Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913) hides in a cupboard in the House of Commons on census night

The Prisoners' Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act, also known as 'The Cat and Mouse Act', is introduced, targeting suffragettes on hunger-strike 

Britain declares war on Germany on 4 August. During the war years, 1914-18, an estimated two million women replace men in traditionally male jobs

A conference on electoral reform, chaired by the House of Commons Speaker, is set up and reports in 1917. Limited women's suffrage is recommended

The Representation of the People Act is passed on 6 February giving women the vote provided they are aged over 30 and either they, or their husband, meet a property qualification

The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act is passed on 21 November allowing women to stand for Parliament

Women vote in a general election for the first time on 14 December with 8.5 million women eligible

The Equal Franchise Act is passed giving women equal voting rights with men. All women aged over 21 can now vote in elections. Fifteen million women are eligible

On 30 May women aged between 21 and 29 vote for the first time. This general election is sometimes referred to as the Flapper Election


You can access biographies of

Millicent Fawcett
Emmeline Pankhurst
Emily Wilding Davison

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Also within Living Heritage

Related Information


From peaceful campaigning to militant tactics, the fight for women’s voting rights lasted many years. Find out how their goals were achieved, with full equality with men being won in 1928