6 February 1918: (some) British women get the vote

With the passing of the Fourth Reform Act on this day in 1918, certain British women over the age of 30 were given the right to vote.

Before the 19th century, women were excluded from voting, but there was no explicit ban. Ironically, it was the Great Reform Act of 1832, which expanded voting rights and reformed parliamentary boundaries, which first stated that only men could vote.

For the next three decades, the political agenda was dominated by the debate over the remaining restrictions on male voting and redrawing the political map better to reflect the growing urban population. But with the passage of the Second Reform Act in 1867, which allowed most middle-class men to vote, attention started to turn towards women's suffrage.

In the following election that year a female shop owner actually voted, although it was later voided. Three years later, the first bill to grant votes to women was introduced in Parliament, though it failed. Meanwhile, various lobby groups were set up, focused initially on normal political methods, such as parades and pressing MPs to introduce legislation.

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By 1903 a growing number of women were angry at the lack of progress and so formed the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). This group used direct action tactics, including arson, to draw attention to their position. Although divisive, this further increased the momentum for change.

The breakthrough came in 1907 when women ratepayers were allowed to vote (and stand as candidates) in local elections. By 1918 the Fourth Reform Act was passed, eliminating remaining property restrictions on male suffrage and allowing women over 30 (who met certain property qualifications) to vote. In 1928, the voting age was lowered to 21 and property qualifications were abolished.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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