OCR B British Dept Study: Votes for Women

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What was the social, political/legal and economic position of women in the 1890s?

Social Position

  • The social position of women was greatly inferior to that of men.
  • In 1870, girls went to school as per law but their syllabus consisted of housewifery, laundry work and cookery.
  • Their biggest aspiration was to get married and have children.
  • Women usually had no means of independent subsistence.
  • Single women attracted social disapproval and pity.
  • Once married, women were basically like men’s property. Her duty was to obey her husband.
  • By 1900, women could divorce their husbands, and keep their own property after marriage.
  • But a woman lost all her rights over her children after divorce.
  • Wife battering and marital **** were still legal.

Economic Position

  • Women didn’t have many career options open to them. Society believed their place was in the house.
  • There were a few, however: domestic servant, working in small workshops to sew, make matchboxes or candles, and working in textile factories.
  • More options were opening towards the end of the 19th century such as teachers and nurses where they only employed single women.
  • Women were paid considerably less than men for doing the same amount of work.

Political/Legal Position

  • Women did not have the right to vote.
  • They were not allowed to be MPs.
  • All laws were biased towards men

 “Under exclusively man-made laws women have been reduced to the most abject condition of legal slavery in which it is possible for human beings to be held...under the arbitrary domination of another's will, and dependent for decent treatment exclusively on the goodness of heart of the individual master.” – Florence Fenwick Miller, 1890 (From a speech to the National Liberal Club)

What were the arguments for and against female suffrage?


  • Parliament’s decision affects both men and women.
  • There are single women or widows who bear the same responsibilities as men.
  • Women’s opportunities are increasing and so the vote should come next
  • Women have special skills and expertise and can help Parliament make better laws regarding education and home-life.
  • Uneducated men can vote whilst respectable well-educated women cannot.
  • Women pay taxes just like men.
  • They can already serve in local elections and so they are capable of serving in national elections.
  • Voting is a way to get rid of other inequalities
  • The vote will improve men’s moral and sexual behaviour
  • Britain is not a true democracy until women have the vote
  • Lots of other countries permitted women the vote (for example Australia and New Zealand).


  • Men and women have ‘separate spheres’. Women are home-makers whilst men debate and work.
  • Most women did not want the vote.
  • Women are pure and should be protected from the grubby world of politics.
  • Women are too emotional and irrational as their brains weigh less and they are guided by their womb.
  • Giving women the vote means giving it to all men such as riff-raffs.
  • Women are already represented by their


Steve Owen


sarah taraq

This was very helpful. Thanks!!!


thanks so much! 

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