I was approached in late 2017 about my grandfather’s cousin, Maude Smith, who was a suffragette, for information about her, her family, and the location of photographs for a series of specials planned in Britain about the suffragettes in honour of the centenary of the women’s vote. While talking with the researcher she asked me if was planning on somehow commemorating the anniversary, and I said no. Truthfully, I was really oblivious to the fact that it was coming on a century. But that has got me thinking about women’s suffrage, and the various legislation which have allowed our democracy to expand.
Of course the lady from the BBC was referring to the anniversary of the Representation of the People Act which received royal ascent on the 6th of February 1918. This law allowed women in Britain over the age of 30 with some property qualifications able to vote in elections. For Maude Smith and her fellow suffragettes, this legislation was the culmination of years of serious work, sacrifice and pain. They had fought to have a voice in their government, in their country, in their lives. The rest of the women over 21 had to wait a further 10 years in Britain for the Representation of the People [Equal Franchise Act] to get royal ascent on the 2nd of July 1928.
But of course, as a Canadian I am also aware of when the women of my Canadian family were able to vote. The provincial vote came first to the women of Manitoba the 28th of January 1916, and the federal vote came to all women over 21 on the 24th of May 1918, a few months after their British sisters. My grandmother and great-grandmothers were not able to vote in the Quebec provincial elections until the 25th of April 1940. [For a great article on suffrage in Canada click here] Their struggle was a part of a larger struggle for universal adult suffrage, which we now enjoy in Canada. The vote is an important part of what makes a democracy function.
I think what amazes me the most the suffragettes is that they had the gumption to do something about what they believe in. What an enormous amount of courage they had. I often think that faced with the same kind of problem, and the belief that women were entitled to vote, but couldn’t, I wouldn’t have had the courage to act in the way that they did. It takes a special kind of person to involve themselves so whole-heartedly in a social movement. And so I thank them so much for their sacrifice. This I do every election, when I vote.