The election resulted in a landslide victory for the coalition government of David Lloyd George, who had replaced H. H. Asquith as Prime Minister in December 1916. It was also noted for the dramatic result in Ireland, which showed clear disapproval of government policy. The Irish Parliamentary Party were almost completely wiped out by hardline Sinn Féin republicans in the election, despite almost the entire leadership of Sinn Féin having been arrested on 17 May 1918. In total 47 of the Sinn Féin MPs were elected from jail. The 73 elected Sinn Féin members refused to take their seats in the British House of Commons, sitting instead in the Irish revolutionary assembly the Dáil Éireann which first convened on 21 January 1919, the start of the Irish War of Independence.
The general election of 1918 is remarkable for many reasons. The addition of a huge number of first-time women voters made this election historic. Moreover, because of the first World War, it was the first general election in more than eight years – one of the longest gaps in British or Irish constitutional history – and was also known as a khaki election, due to the immediate postwar setting and the role of the demobilised soldiers. It was also the first election in which women were allowed to stand as MPs.
The first act to give votes to women in Britain became law on 6 February 1918. 1918 was also the year that a separate law was passed - the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, passed in November 1918 - which allowed women to stand as candidates and be elected as Members of Parliament. When women were finally allowed to stand for election as MPs, 17 women put themselves forward but all but one were defeated.
Despite being interned in Holloway Prison at the time, Sinn Féin member Constance Markievicz became the first woman to be elected to the British Parliament. A feminist, nationalist, suffragette, socialist and artist, Constance was one of the most well-known of the 200 women who took part in the Easter Rising against British Imperial rule in Dublin on Easter Monday 1916. As one of the leaders of the uprising she was court-martialled and sentenced to be shot, but her life was spared on the grounds of her sex. She was released from prison in 1917 when the British government granted a general amnesty for those who had participated in the Easter Rising, but was jailed again in 1918 for her part in anti-conscription activities. In 1919 she was released from prison, but like the other elected members of Sinn Féin she did not take up her seat in Parliament.
The first woman to take her seat was Nancy Astor (Viscountess Astor), after a by-election in December 1919. She was elected as a Conservative for the Plymouth Sutton constituency after her husband, Waldorf Astor, the former MP, was elevated to the peerage.
To celebrate 100 years since women first voted in the UK, the team at Historic Newspapers have created an interactive timeline detailing when women around the world were given the full vote. The timeline explores how gaining the vote didn’t necessarily equate to full-enfranchisement or equal rights. Although some countries allowed women to vote, there were certain restrictions and rules that still denied a large majority of women the privilege.
The accompanying data reveals the countries with the largest time disparity between limited and full enfranchisement. This emphasises the fact that women’s rights was not only a question of gender, but of race and social class as well.
To access the fully interactive timeline and gain some fascinating insights into the fight for women’s suffrage, please visit: https://www.historic-newspapers.co.uk/womens-suffrage-timeline