Created By: The Nerve Centre
This tour has been developed in partnership with the Whitehead Suffragette Society in partnership with the Making the Future project, and explores the town's connection with key suffragette characters. Making the Future is a project supported by the European Union's PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).
The suffrage movement can be traced back to the Great Reform Act of 1832 which explicitly excluded women from voting for the first time by defining voters as ‘male persons’. On 3rd August 1832 Henry Hunt MP presented the first petition to parliament from an individual woman asking for the vote, Mary Smith from Stanmore in Yorkshire stated that as she paid taxes and was subject to the rule of law she should be entitled to have the vote. The petition was laughed out of parliament.
The North of Ireland Women’s Suffrage Society was founded in 1872 in Belfast by Isabella Tod, the first suffrage society to be established in Ireland. Based in Belfast, the society also had branches in Whitehead, Bangor, Antrim and Derry. In 1909 it was renamed as the Irish Women’s Suffrage Society.
The efforts of those committed to the suffrage cause resulted in the advancement of women in the following ways, in 1896 women who fulfilled certain property qualifications were allowed to serve as
Poor Law guardians, and in 1898 qualified women were allowed to vote in local elections and be elected to rural and urban district councils. By 1899, Ireland had 85 female Poor Law guardians, 31 female rural district councillors, and four female urban district councillors.
In 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was founded in Manchester by Emmeline Pankhurst to campaign for women’s suffrage. The term ‘suffragette’ was used for the first time in 1906 by the Daily Mail, although initially used as a derogatory term to describe those involved in the suffrage campaign the term was embraced by women fighting for the right to vote.
The first recorded militant suffragette activity recorded in Ulster took place in 1912 when women from the Irish Women’s Suffrage Society smashed the windows of the General Post Office in Donegall Square in Belfast. Militancy increased throughout 1913 and in September of that year the WSPU established a Belfast branch. Between 1912 and 1914 thirty five Irish women were arrested and convicted in connection with militant actions.
Many women involved in the suffrage cause chose to cease campaigning following the advent of the First World War in 1914. In 1918 the Representation of the People Act extended voting rights to women aged 30 and over who met minimum property requirements or whose husband’s did.
In 1928 the Representation of the People Act (Northern Ireland) reduced the voting age for women to 21, however property qualifications still applied with the vote being confined to the occupier of the house and his wife. Adult children (age 21 or over) and servants or sub-tenants were still excluded from voting. The property qualification disproportionately affected women who were less likely to meet the qualification. The voting age for men and women was lowered to 18 in 1969 however the property qualification still applied.
In 1972 the deteriorating security situation in Northern Ireland led to the British Government imposing a period of direct rule, as a consequence the property qualification was removed from the voting requirements and women were finally able to vote on the same terms as men in 1973.
For more information on the Making the Future project, visit www.makingthefuture.eu