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LGA - Councils herald 100 years since certain women first won the right to vote
Women who successfully campaigned for the right to vote and changed our public and political landscape forever have been commemorated in a new list of more than 100 pioneers, with the first names being unveiled today.
The first female councillors, magistrates and mayors are among those highlighted from across the country who made a lasting impact in their areas, to coincide with today’s centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 which first extended the vote to certain women.
The Women’s Local Government Society (WLGS) has been working alongside the Local Government Association to help gather nominations and draw up the list, to celebrate the lives of the many suffragists and other campaigners who were active in the extension of the franchise, and who went on to use their extra rights in a positive way locally including running for public office. The first 45 pioneers have been published today, with the remainder to be announced on International Women’s Day on 8 March.
Among those due to be named on the full list is Lincolnshire’s Margaret Wintringham, who became the first British woman to take her seat in the House of Commons where she continued the campaign after 1918 to expand the vote to all women. Others include Catharine Alderton, the first Lady mayor of Colchester and first female member of Essex County Council, who in 1913 led a ‘pilgrimage’ of suffrage supporters from all over Eastern England to a rally in Hyde Park.
Reading’s Phoebe Cusden went on to make a significant mark in her town and beyond as a councillor and campaigner for nursery schooling, later leading on the development of town twinning when moved to help the children of Dusseldorf affected by Second World War bombing. Lifelong women’s right campaigner Jessie Stephen became the first female president of the Trades Council and served as a borough councillor for Bermondsey in London and later as city councillor in Bristol. Mother and daughter Sarah and Marjorie Lees from Oldham helped advance the suffrage movement, with the former part of the suffrage pilgrimage and who established the Council of Social Service, while Sarah was Mayor and Freeman of the Borough as well as being a dedicated activist. Alice Collinge, another nominee, was an early candidate for Bolton Town Council and chaired the local Women's Peace Crusade.
Cllr Marianne Overton, LGA Vice Chairman and Vice Chair of the WLGS, said:
“These female pioneers are rightly being recognised for their courageous campaigning and determination to achieve what was a historic milestone on the path towards gender equality and democracy for all.
“The centenary of the Act passing into law is a timely opportunity to remind ourselves of those that came before us and who made it possible for women today to play a full and active role in our democracy.
“However, there is still much more to be done to improve women’s participation in public life, including local government and especially in leadership roles. Our town halls need to fully reflect the people they represent. We cannot afford to miss out on the skills and experience which women hold if we are to make the best decisions for our communities.
“The gender gap is still very much at the top of today’s public agenda and we should not have to wait another hundred years to achieve full equality of pay and representation.
“Councils will continue to be at the forefront of driving change to address this imbalance, through initiatives such as offering shared parental leave, childcare support and flexible working. We also need political parties, of all persuasions, to play their part by encouraging and supporting the next generation of aspiring councillors.
“Our female leaders of tomorrow need only look around their own communities to find inspiration in those that came before them.”
WLGS Chair Cllr Lesley Clarke said: “We know the hundred or so local pioneers we have identified so far represent so many more activists in this period. Women who fought for the vote didn’t just fade away in 1918. Many were already actively involved in improving their local communities alongside their work to win the vote. They had more opportunities to do so after 1918, and more to do. They were suffragists, suffragettes, and so much more.”
Today’s centenary is being celebrated by local authorities in many ways, through exhibitions, parades, talks, plaques and many other commemorative events which will also take place throughout the year.
From Suffrage Campaigns to Citizenship – identifying 100 suffrage pioneers
The Women's Local Government Society is a cross-party and independent organisation which campaigned to enable women to stand as local councillors. Its "From Suffrage Campaigns to Citizenship" project with partners including the LGA and Buckinghamshire County Council identifies and celebrate the lives of 100 women who were active in the campaign for votes, and who went on to use the extended rights to citizenship in a positive way locally.
LGA Be a Councillor campaign
The LGA’s Be a Councillor campaign is encouraging women and other under-represented groups to engage in politics, which is being expanded to include female mentors and greater support for young women considering running for public office.
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