The hidden “Her-Story” of Parliament told in landmark exhibition

27 June 2018

To celebrate 100 years of the first women getting the vote, the UK Parliament has today launched its ground-breaking exhibition “Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament.”

In the year that the UK Parliament marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act (1918), this major exhibition in Westminster Hall uses interactive features and historic exhibits to tell the hidden “her-story” of the UK Parliament: the campaigning, the protests and the achievements. It is also examining where we are today and how anyone can make change happen. 

Among the items in this innovative exhibition are re-creations of lost historical spaces of the Palace of Westminster, rare and previously unseen historic objects, pictures and archives from the Parliamentary collections and elsewhere.

Visitors will delve into the past and discover what women would have experienced in: The Cage, The Tomb, The Chamber and The Ventilator.

Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said: “This exhibition is not just about equality, and the anniversary of some women gaining the right to vote, it’s about women’s right to stand for election, to sit in the House of Lords, and as hundreds of people visit this exhibition it will allow each of them to learn more about what it has taken for us to get to where we are now – and what still needs to be done. I was the 265th woman to be elected to Parliament. There are currently 208 women MPs and each of us are part of the journey to our democracy fully embracing equality.”

Melanie Unwin, Co-Curator of the Voice and Vote exhibition, said: “This innovative exhibition will immerse visitors in lost historical spaces, to show the barriers that women had to overcome to participate in democracy. For the first time, we are recreating the sounds and atmosphere of the uncomfortable spaces which women were confined to – to show the magnitude of what campaigners and early women MPs achieved despite the limitations placed on them. Revealing this hidden history should help inspire us all to make use of the rights that women of generations past have dedicated their lives to.”

Rare historic exhibits from around the country, some of which have never been on public display before, help to tell the story of the battle for women to gain the right to vote. Among them a watercolour sketch of the Ventilator, which depicts the reality of women’s exclusion from political life 200 years ago, which will go on display for the first time after being loaned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

The Museum of London is loaning a leather body belt fastened with straps with heavy chains and padlocks, used by the suffragettes Muriel Matters and Helen Fox to chain themselves to the grille that divided the House of Commons from the Ladies' Gallery.

Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives is loaning one of Nancy Astor’s most famous outfits. The outfit consists of an early 20th century black skirt suit, cream/off-white blouse and black hat and was affectionately referred to by Nancy as her 'parliamentary uniform.'  She apparently deliberately chose an outfit that would look demure and business-like. A hand-out on the exhibitions star loans is attached.

Mari Takayanagi, Co-Curator of the Voice and Vote Exhibition, said: “We have been working on the Voice and Vote exhibition since 2014 and we’ve made some fantastic discoveries along the way. In particular we’ve delighted to display for the first time items from private collections which beautifully illustrate the story of women and Parliament.  The exhibition will help people relive the fight, struggles and sacrifices made by the early suffrage pioneers, and remind us all of the importance of what they fought for.”

Vote 100

2018 marks 100 years since The Representation of the People Act 1918 extended the right to vote to all men over 21 and the first women, making this one of the most important centenaries in British democratic history. Ten years later all men, and women over 21, were given the equal right to vote under the Representation of the People Act 1918 (Equal Franchise Act 1928.)

Tickets can be booked here

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