The Fight for Women’s Equality is at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Lichfield Street, until 4 July.
The gallery is open Monday to Saturday from 10.30am–4.30pm and Sunday from 11am–4pm. Admission is free. For more details, please visit www.wolverhamptonart.org.uk.
This year marks a century since Parliament passed a law which allowed some women and all men in the UK to vote for the time.
The Representation of the People Act 1918 was the first to include women over 30 who held £5 of property, or who had husbands who did, in the political system.
In doing so, it extended the right to vote to millions of women and to celebrate this milestone the City of Wolverhampton Archives and Wolverhampton Art Gallery have put together an exhibition exploring how the new legislation changed people’s lives and how women in Wolverhampton played a significant part in the fight for their right to vote.
The exhibition features local Suffragette Emma Sproson as well as the movement’s key national leaders including Emmeline Pankhurst and Millicent Fawcett, who both visited Wolverhampton on a number of occasions.
The works on display show two different sides to women in the Victorian era. One depicts them as clean, healthy and well-fed, working in golden fields under a warm sun, and the other gives a more realistic picture of women’s experience of Victorian work, showing how the women fighting for suffrage also campaigned for other benefits including better workers’ rights, improved working conditions and the elimination of child labour.
Alongside photography, visitors will be able to see rare extracts from the diaries of Emma Sproson, which offer a first-hand account of her bravery. She was ridiculed and abused in the street, imprisoned and suffered violence, but never gave up the fight – indeed, she went on to become the first woman elected to Wolverhampton Borough Council in November 1921.
Councillor John Reynolds, the City of Wolverhampton Council’s Cabinet Member for City Economy, said: “The Suffragettes played a significant role in Wolverhampton’s history and supported the movement for better conditions personally and professionally.
“The exhibition is a celebration and I hope people will take the time to come along and learn about Wolverhampton’s past.”
The Act widened suffrage by enfranchising women who were (a) over 30 and who (b) met minimum property qualifications. It also abolished almost all property qualifications for men because otherwise millions of returning male soldiers would not have been entitled to vote because of property and residential qualifications.
These changes saw the size of the electorate triple from 7.7 million to 21.4 million. Women accounted for about 43% of the electorate, but women were still not politically equal, as men could vote from the age of 21. The age 30 requirement was to ensure women did not become the majority of the electorate. If women had been enfranchised based upon the same requirements as men, they would have been in the majority, due to the loss of men in the war.
In 1928 women and men were treated equally and all over 21 got vote.
Incidentally the Act also instituted the present system of holding General Elections on one day, and brought in the annual electoral register.