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Votes for women!
A poster used in the women's suffrage campaign between 1911 and 1917 Photo: LSE Library

Votes for women!

London, 29 March 1917 - Sweeping electoral reform is set to extend the franchise to women in the United Kingdom.

The plan to finally give the vote to women is one of the most arresting features of electoral change recommended by the Speaker’s Conference on Electoral Reform.

The other main recommendations of the report include a six-month qualification for voters, half-yearly revision of the register, restriction of plural voting, redistribution of seats, proportional representation in urban areas and the holding of elections on a single day.

In the course of the debate on the proposals, the former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith ‘recanted’ his opinion on women’s suffrage, and now recommended their enfranchisement. He said that he and others no longer regarded the issue from the standpoint they had held before the war: ‘Women have worked out their own salvation and how could we have carried on the war without them.’

Ulster Unionists remained opposed and demanded, instead, the immediate addition to the register of men on active service.

The Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, admitted that the ongoing exclusion of both war workers and military personnel from the register of voters was ‘absolutely indefensible’, but that the enfranchisement of servicemen was still impractical in wartime.

A letter  from the Irish Women's Suffrage and Local Government Association urging the government to include Irish women in the franchise bill. (Image: National Archives of Ireland, CSO RP 1917 4842)

In a pithy comment on the changes in the franchise, the Freeman’s Journal opined: 'The ministering angels of peace have shelled their way to the franchise. Such are the ironies of history.'

As the wider opposition to the enfranchisement of women simply melted away, a vote on the prompt introduction of the electoral reform proposals was supported by 341 votes to 62.

The question of age qualification will be put to a free vote in Commons after the Easter recess.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.