Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Women Who Want Votes

100 years ago today the Representation of the People Act was passed. This meant that women over 30 who owned property were given the right to vote .

This is a photograph from The Express, Saturday July 1913, showing a large crowd in Outwood.  The newspaper article sates:

"The non-militant suffragette pilgrims belonging to  the National Union of Woman's Suffrage societies are progressing on their long tramp..... After a brief halt at Outwood they made their acquaintance with Wakefield, which possesses a very active band of women workers, who will never be happy until they get the vote which has been so long denied them."

The article goes on to talk about banners along the route:

"All along the route there were large crowds of people, and the women displayed all kinds of banners and devices.  On one were the words 'Law Abiding' on another 'Justice for Women'"

The crowds made their way into Wakefield:

"...the crowds got denser, and nearly all the space available was occupied in the Bull Ring"

This is a copy of the full newspaper article:

In celebration of the Vote 100 anniversary we'd like to highlight two objects from our collections that we are very proud to display in our museums. The objects are very different, but represent campaign for change:

A woman’s right to cues!

Sheila Capstick achieved national fame in the 1980s when she took action against Wakefield City Working Men’s Club. Women were not allowed full membership at working men’s clubs and when Sheila was banned from playing snooker it was time for action.

Campaign T-shirt, Wakefield, 1979.  This  is on display at Wakefield Museum.
Along with reporter Brenda Haywood they started ERICCA  - Equal Rights in Clubs Campaign for Action, which began by picketing Wakefield City Working Men’s Club and sparked a national campaign which ran throughout the 1980s. Campaigners picketed clubs across the country and eventually Wakefield City Working Men’s Club lifted the snooker ban.

Despite ERICCA’s efforts in the 1980s, the Club and Institute Union (CIU) only changed its rules and granted women equal rights and full membership in 2007.

Pontefract’s Secret Ballot
Pontefract took centre stage on 15 August 1872 when it held the first parliamentary secret ballot in Britain. This was the first time that people had voted for a Member of Parliament by marking an ‘X’ on a ballot paper next to the candidate of their choice - the system we take for granted today. Until then voting had been a public act which allowed corruption and intimidation.
Edward Leatham, Pontefract-born banker and MP for Huddersfield, led the campaign to reform voting after outrageous corruption in the 1868 General Election. In July 1872 the Ballot Act introduced secret voting. Three weeks later a by-election was called in Pontefract.
One of Pontefract’s two MPs, Hugh Childers, was promoted to the cabinet and so stood for re-election. Unusually he was challenged by the ambitious, young Lord Pollington.

The election attracted national attention, especially when Josephine Butler – feminist and social reformer - took advantage of the parliamentary election in Pontefract to further her aims to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts (which allowed the police to detain women they suspected of prostitution to control venereal diseases in the armed forces – no evidence was required).  It was the first female-led feminist campaign in Britain.

The election was hastily organised, but polling day went smoothly with none of the drunken and riotous behaviour that usually accompanied elections. Childers was victorious and Josephine Butler eventually succeeded in getting the Contagious Diseases act repealed. We still use the same secret ballot voting method today.
We have two of the ballot boxes used in these elections in our collections:

One of the ballot boxes used in the first secret ballot.  You can see the remains of where the box was sealed shut with wax and a Pontefract cake stamp.  You can see the boxes on display at Wakefield Museum and Pontefract Museum (Pontefract Museum is currently closed for redevelopment - it will be reopening in May 2018)

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