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100 Years of Women's Suffrage

2018 marks 100 years since the UK Parliament passed a law which allowed the first women, and all men, to vote for the first time in parliamentary elections.

At the Assembly we are celebrating this important milestone with an exhibition exploring the variety of women's suffrage movements active in Wales in the early 20th century.

On 6 and 8 March we will also be running two free all day workshops in the Senedd in partnership with St Fagan's Museum and Cardiff University featuring original banners that were used by the Cardiff & District Women's Suffrage Society during marches and protests in early 1900s.


International Women's Day 2018                                                                                                                                                                                  

Date: 8 March 2018

Time: 18.30 – 21.00

Location: Senedd

To mark the centenary of the granting of partial Women's Suffrage in 2018, the Senedd will be hosting the 10th anniversary annual Ursula Masson Memorial Lecture in partnership with the Centre for Gender Studies at the University of South Wales and the Archif Menywod Cymru/Women's Archive of Wales. This year's lecture will be delivered by Dr Ryland Wallace, author of The Women's Suffrage Movement in Wales 1866 – 1928 and will discuss the history of the women's suffrage movement in Wales.

We also celebrate the launch of Rhondda Rips it Up!, Welsh National Opera's new opera which marks the life of Wales's most prominent suffragette Lady Rhondda, Margaret Haig Thomas.

Date: 8 March 2018

Time: 12.00 – 13.30

Location: Oriel, Senedd

Book launch: Rocking the Boat. Welsh Women Who Championed Equality 1840 – 1990 by Angela V. John

Rocking the Boat. Welsh Women who Championed Equality, 1840-1990 is a collection of essays that focuses on seven Welsh women who, in a range of imaginative ways, resisted the status quo in Wales, England and beyond during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They challenge expectations about how women's lives were lived then. They also explore different approaches to biographical writing and understanding as well as raising issues of gender and nationality.


The Origins of the Women's Suffrage Movement in Wales

Date: 5 - 16 March

Location: Senedd

An organised women's suffrage movement operated continuously in Britain for more than sixty years, with partial enfranchisement won in 1918 and equal voting rights with men finally achieved ten years later. This exhibition aims to provide a snapshot of Wales's part in this lengthy and multifaceted campaign, the photographs, images and artefacts seeking to illustrate some of its principal elements.

The portrait of Viscountess Rhondda is used as the centre piece of the exhibition, though the campaign began long before her involvement. In the years prior to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, three main organisations, spearheading a host of propaganda and pressure strategies, elevated 'Votes for Women' into a major issue in British politics.

The Women's Suffrage Movement in Wales in the early 1900s

Members of Emmeline Pankhurst's Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU, founded in 1903) – the notorious 'suffragettes' – pursued a militant strategy, involving escalating attacks on public and private property, which often brought the arrest and imprisonment of activists. Their policy of heckling politicians (and most especially in Wales, David Lloyd George) led to disruption and disorder at the National Eisteddfod on two occasions and to some of the most serious physical attacks upon campaigners.

The Women's Freedom League (WFL) broke away from the WSPU in 1907 and established a distinct identity of 'militant but non-violent' civil resistance, such as the refusal to pay taxes and boycott of the 1911 census.

By far the largest number of the campaigners – 'suffragists' – supported the non-militant and strictly law-abiding National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), which was formed from existing organisations in 1897 and led by Millicent Fawcett.

All three societies, and many other smaller organisations including the (Forward) Cymric Suffrage Union, undertook an enormous amount of propaganda work, holding thousands of public meetings in all corners of the country, disseminating their newspapers and other literature (including some in the Welsh language), holding huge rallies in London, electioneering and lobbying MPs.

It should not be forgotten too that powerful and determined opposition to women's suffrage –from the 'Antis' – was evident as the campaign escalated.

The Women's Suffrage Movement in Wales in the 1920s

With the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 the women's suffrage campaign was side-lined though far from eclipsed as most suffragists and suffragettes turned their attention to supporting the war effort. While Emmeline Pankhurst and the leadership of the WSPU replaced militancy with militarism, splinter groups and other organisations played an important role in 'keeping the suffrage flag flying' and ten months before the end of the conflict (in February 1918) women were granted the parliamentary vote for the first time. It was however a partial victory only, for the legislation confined the vote to women over thirty who met certain property qualifications (while all men over twenty-one, or even nineteen if they had served in the armed forces) became eligible. The struggle thus continued for another decade until equal enfranchisement on the same terms as men – at the age 21 and without any property qualifications – was achieved in July 1928.

The final section of the exhibition gives some attention to women as MPs at Westminster, since they became eligible to take their seats in October 1918, and in the National Assembly in Cardiff, since its creation in 1999.

Ryland Wallace (Author of The Women's Suffrage Movement in Wales, 1866-1928)


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