Representation of the People Act 1918

The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave the Parliamentary vote to all men aged 21 and over, and all women aged 30 and over who met (or whose husband met) the minimum property qualification for the local government franchise, meaning occupation of land or premises of a yearly value of not less than five pounds or of a dwelling-house. The Act also gave women the university franchise, a second Parliamentary vote for university graduates, providing they were 30 years old and would be entitled to be so registered if they had been men.

Women were formally excluded from the Parliamentary franchise in England, Wales and Ireland by the 1832 Reform Acts, which made many reforms to the electoral system and enlarged the electorate, but also defined a voter as a ‘male person’ for the first time. By the first half of the nineteenth century many women, including Barbara Bodichon, were involved in election campaigning, exercising patronage, campaigns for Parliamentary reform, and in the Chartist movement. By the early 20th century, the vote had become the most pressing issue for feminists, a prerequisite to tackling other inequalities. While the stories of many suffragettes and suffragists are now well-known, the significance of the suffrage campaign has been (and often continues to be) downplayed. Many MPs at the time and historians subsequently preferring to give credit for the achievement of the vote to women’s war effort rather than their campaigns, which have often been presented as damaging rather than advancing the cause. In truth, however, many women who had assisted the war effort were still unable to vote. Women campaigned for a further ten years before they got the vote on the same terms as men by virtue of the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928.

The 1918 Act is that it was a huge concession of principle: women could now vote in Parliamentary elections, as constituents able to put pressure directly on MPs to look after their interests … It was also a compromise, as legislation so often is; the age and property qualifications ensured that its actual significance, in terms of the numbers and proportion of women allowed to vote, was limited for a decade to come until the 1928 Act.

Mari Takayanagi

The full version of this landmark was written by Mari Takayanagi.

Learn More

Encyclopaedia Britannica, ‘Reform Bill’ https://www.britannica.com/topic/Reform-Bill

Parliament, ‘Women Get the Vote’ (Living Heritage: Women and the Votehttp://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/womenvote/overview/thevote/

Parliament, ‘The 1866 Women’s Suffrage Petition: The First Mass Votes for Women Petition’ (Living Heritage: Women and the Votehttps://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/womenvote/parliamentary-collections/1866-suffrage-petition/

Parliament, ‘The Reform Act 1832’ (Living Heritage: The Reform Acts and Representative Democracy) http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/houseofcommons/reformacts/overview/reformact1832/

The Guardian, ‘Reform Bill Passed: Women’s Vote Won’ (The Guardian News and Media Ltd.https://www.theguardian.com/world/1918/feb/07/gender