In 2018, the University will be celebrating the Vote 100 and is keen to receive suggestions from the public on how the anniversary could be celebrated

THE year 2018 sees the centenary of landmark legislation that gave British women the vote.  A major national commemoration is planned, backed by Parliament, but the University of Huddersfield is determined to ensure that its district’s role in the long campaign for female suffrage also receives full recognition.  

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The University is planning a series of events, such as exhibitions and lectures, and now it is inviting the public to suggest local ways of marking Vote 100, as the anniversary has been dubbed.

“The campaign for votes for women was fought and won not just in and around Westminster.  It was something that had genuinely local roots, especially in places like Huddersfield, with its strong radical tradition,” said the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tim Thornton, who is a historian.

Huddersfield and district were a hive of suffragette activity in the early 1900s.  There were mass meetings at which guest speakers included Christabel and Adela Pankhurst.  And many local women attended big demonstrations in London.  Several were arrested, including the 17-year-old mill girl Dora Thewlis.  A widely-circulated photograph of her grappling with burly police officers led to national outrage and was even issued as a picture postcard.

We are an institution that has been about the education of women and giving them access to the professions from soon after our beginnings in 1841.  The Vote 100 commemoration is therefore very important to us and we are determined to ensure that it has a local element,

Professor Tim Thornton

Deputy Vice-Chancellor

But the main reason that Huddersfield has become a focus for research by historians of the female suffrage movement is that the town is home to an extremely rare and valuable document – the minute book of the local branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), which had been founded nationally in 1903 by Emmeline Pankhurst.

The Huddersfield branch’s minutes were compiled between 1907 and 1909 by its secretary and organiser, Edith Key, who was steeped in radical politics locally.  In 2002, Edith’s descendants deposited the minute book, plus other documents, with the West Yorkshire Archives Service in Huddersfield.  It meant that historians of female suffrage now had a valuable source that could help them understand how the campaign took shape in the regions, away from Westminster.

The significance of this has led the University of Huddersfield to rename one of its buildings – a base for researchers in fields such as health and sociology – in honour of Edith Key.  And the University’s own archive, at Heritage Quay, has material that includes the minute books of the Colne Valley Labour Party, which also agitated to extend the vote.

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Women fight to voteLeft to right – 17-year-old Huddersfield mill worker Dora Thewlis being arrested, this photo was widely circulated as picture postcard; suffragettes on hunger strike in prison were regularly force fed; and suffragette campaigners being led away under arrest by the police.

Important events in the University’s calendar are to be part of the Vote 100 programme.  For example, the 2018 J.H. Whitley Lecture – commemorating a former Speaker of the House of Commons – will be delivered by Halifax MP Holly Lynch, alongside academic researcher Dr Whyeda Gill-Mclure.

Other ideas are being explored and Professor Thornton stated that the University was keen to receive suggestions from the public on how the anniversary could be celebrated.

Nationally, Vote 100 events are being backed by Speaker’s Art Fund with additional support from the House of Lords and the House of Commons.  They will include Voice and Vote, a major exhibition plus associated activities that will be held in Parliament during summer 2018.

  • Vote 100 commemorates the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which extended the franchise to women for the first time – but only if they were 30 or over.  Ten years later the Equal Franchise Act enabled them to vote at 21, the same age as men at this time.  The 1918 Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act gave women over 21 the right to stand for election as an MP.