British women’s right to vote was formally removed by a combination of the 1832 Reform Act and the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act and would not be fully restored until 1928. No single act gave women the right to vote; rather four separate acts, passed over a period of more than 50 years, gradually extended the franchise to include all women, giving them the right to vote in both local and national elections. It is worth bearing in mind that, throughout most of this time period, not every man had the right to vote; eligibility was governed by property ownership and residency.
Municipal Franchise Act, 1869
Passed in 1869, the Municipal Franchise Act returned the right to vote in local elections to specific categories of women. Married women remained excluded by an 1872 court judgment, which ruled that married women had no legal status beyond that of their husband. As a result, only single women could register to vote in local elections although, like their male counterparts, they first had to qualify by having lived in a rated property -- such as they paid a property tax to the local council -- for at least one year.
Local Government Act, 1894
The 1894 Local Government Act confirmed single women’s right to vote in local elections and also extended this franchise to married women, assuming that they met the residency criteria. However, many married women were still excluded, because the Act included a clause decreeing that married men and women could not qualify to vote through residence at the same property. Women still remained unable to vote in national elections.
Representation of the People Act, 1918
In the final year of World War I, the Representation of the People Act extended the right to vote in national elections to a much larger number of women. Women aged over 30 who fulfilled the property criteria could now vote in elections to the national parliament in Westminster. Although an estimated 8.5 million women fell into this category, they still represented only 40 percent of the adult female population. However, the Act still discriminated against women, because it extended the right to vote to all men over the age of 21. The extended franchise enabled by the Act raised the British electorate to 21 million.
Equal Franchise Act, 1928
In 1928, the Equal Franchise Act finally gave women the vote on the same basis as men. British women over 21 years could now vote in local and national elections, drawing the country into line, as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin pointed out at the time, with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The voting age for both men and women dropped to its current minimum of 18 in 1969.
- British Library: History, The 1832 Reform Act
- History of Women: The Women’s Suffrage Movement
- Theorising Welfare; Martin O’Neill
- The National Archives: Human Rights, 1848 – 1914
- The Municipal Government of Bristol; David Large
- History of Women: Local Elections
- Surrey County Council: The Local Government Franchise Before 1918 (The Act of 1894)
- The National Archives: Citizenship, Representation of the People Act 1918
- Parliament.uk: About Parliament, Representation of the People Act 1918
- Parliament.uk: About Parliament, Women and the Vote, Women get the Vote
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images