Suffragette100: Why St Albans women couldn’t vote in 1918

St Albans women couldn't vote in 1918.

St Albans women couldn't vote in 1918. - Credit: Archant

Women in St Albans were not allowed to vote in the first election after women’s suffrage, according to the Herts Advertiser from December 1918.

The Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed on February 6, giving all men over 21 the right to vote, and giving the vote to women over 30 who were either a member of or were married to a member of the Local Government Register, who owned property or were graduates voting in a university constituency.

In a column entitled ‘Women’s Day’, a reporter described a day that would change the course of society, giving women a voice in politics for the first time.

The article read: “December 14, 1918 will be chronicled in our national history as ‘Women’s Day’, inasmuch as it marks the first opportunity afforded to the womanhood of Britain of giving voice in a practical and really effectual way to their opinions in regard to the government of the country.

“Within the hands of between seven and eight million women has now been placed a power, which some have long been eager to wield, of influencing by their voices the trend of national legislation.

“That the womanhood of the nation is worthy of such a power has been proved by the magnificent service rendered during the war - service which not even the most sanguine advocate of Woman Suffrage would have been optimistic enough to predict before the war, while many whose keen opposition to Woman Suffrage was aroused by the unseemly tactics adopted by the militant section of the Women’s Suffrage Societies a few years ago, are feeling to-day that the unhappy record of the past is expunged by the splendid help that the women have willingly rendered in the hour of our country’s need.”

Aside from demonstrating that Herts Ad reporters of the past wrote really long sentences, the column places the result of the vote within the wider context of the First World War.

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According to the Herts Ad, ironically women in the St Albans division were unable to vote for a candidate in the December election. The article said: “Unhappily for the keen female Suffragists of the St Albans Division of Hertfordshire, the return of Sir E Hildred Carlile unopposed robs them of an opportunity for which they have looked so long and eagerly, but in the other four divisions of the county the ladies will share the privilege of going to the ballot with their sisters throughout the country.”

The article later went on to say that now women had the right to vote, it was their “patriotic duty” to exercise it.

Sir Edward Hildred Carlile, a Conservative baronet who was educated at St Albans School, addressed pupils at St Albans High School for Girls in December 1914. He reminded the girls of the “splendid vista of usefulness” for women in the future, and said that the new structure of society must be “securely built upon a sound basis of Christianity”.

“Then, and only then,” claimed Sir Hildred Carlile, “could we look forward with confidence to the great future which lay before women”.

In the February 9 edition of the Herts Ad, the first edition after the historic Act was passed, no mention was made of the Women’s Suffrage movement.

The only significant mentions of women in that issue of the paper are a column entitled ‘A Column for Ladies’, appealing to women to “practice economy in the matter of dress”, and a letter to the editor complaining about the appointment of a female councillor.

But after the disappointment of Sir Edward Hildred Carlile running unopposed, the women of St Albans enjoyed exercising their right to vote in later years.