Suffrage societies held a huge celebratory party in Queens Hall in March 1918. William Blake’s peon ‘Jerusalem’ was set to music and sung lustily by all present. Millicent Fawcett declared the granting of the vote to women to be the greatest moment of her life. Other was less euphoric. Women were aware that they had not achieved equal suffrage rights for which they had been campaigning since the 1860’s for. Their legal status was still inferior to that of men. The battle was far from over.
How far was the political landscape changed in the 1920’s?
The political advances of women in the 1920’s were dependent upon the willingness of the political parties to accommodate the. The right to vote and a handful of women MP’s were not very likely to change the male mind-set in parliament.
Did women flock to become MPs?
7 women candidates stood for election to the House of Commons in 1918, but only one of them, Constance Gore-Booth (who became the Countess Markiewicz after her marriage to a polish count), was successful. However, she had an alternative agenda. A strong advocate of Irish nationalism, she refused to take her seat because she did not recognise the legitimacy of Westminster to legislate for Ireland. She, and the other Sinn Fein candidates, set up their own parliament, the Dail Emirian, in Dublin in 1919.
The first woman to be elected to parliament in her own right was Nancy Astor, who took over her husband’s constituency in Plymouth when he moved t the House of Lords. Over the next 10 years, the number of women MPs gradually increased: in 1922 there were 5 women MPS and by 1929 their numbers had swollen to 14. It was in 1929 that Margaret Bondfield became the first female member of the cabinet, serving as the Minister of labour in the second labour government until 1931. Parliament, needless to say, wasn’t physically ready for women. In 1922 the 5 women MPs had to share an office and there was no women’s lavatory in the building.
How welcoming were the Labour party?
In 1918 the Labour Party published a new constitution, making ‘women’ one of the affiliated groups, which included trade unions, socialist societies and local labour parties. Women’s sections were set up, enabling four women to be elected to Labour’s National Executive. Women within the Labour Party faced a dilemma. Labours main objective was to remove inequalities in society and repeal old, and refuse to support new, discriminatory legislation. So far, so good. Or was it? Labour women would hardly oppose the measures directed at achieving, say, equality, in the workplace. But too often these policies and bills were directed at the rights of the working man, not the working women. Unemployment rose after the First World War, and trade union members understandably wanted to protect the interest as their (manly) male members. Too often women employees were the first to be sacrificed in the effort to protect men’s jobs…