Today marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act was passed, allowing women over the age of 30 and of property to vote. Although this was only the first step in achieving suffrage for all women, with 8.5 million people or 40% of the total population of women in the UK eligible to vote under the Act, this was a hugely significant moment for women’s rights in the UK. The Act also extended the vote to all men over the age of 21. It was until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women over 21 were given the same privilege and achieved the same voting rights as men, increasing the number of women eligible to vote to 15 million.
The women’s suffrage movement and the suffragettes, who included activists led by Emmeline Pankhurst in the WSPU, used both peaceful and militant tactics over a period of many years, all in the hope of one day winning equal voting rights for women. Among them was Emily Davison, whose parents were from Morpeth. On the night of the 1911 census, she hid in a cupboard in St Mary Undercroft, the chapel of the Palace of Westminster, and stayed there overnight to avoid being entered onto the census. She died after being hit by King George V’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby when she walked onto the track during the race, and her funeral was held in Morpeth.
In the last 100 years since that historic day, we have come a long way in securing equality for women, however there is still work to be done both here and elsewhere around the world. We owe a lot to the suffragettes and I hope that today will serve as a reminder to us to keep fighting for equality.