February 6, 1918 was the day when the Representation of the People Act was given royal assent following bitter years of struggle by the Suffragette Movement.
The Representation of the People Act added 8.5 million women – those over 30 who owned property or were graduates voting in a university constituency – to the electoral roll. It also gave the vote to 5.6 million more men after their voting age was lowered to 21, and the property qualification abolished. Women over 21 eventually got the vote ten years later in 1928.
Flying the Suffragette colours is part of activities organised by TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) in collaboration Oxford city and county. A series of University events will complement a programme to mark 100 years of votes for women taking place across Oxford this year.
Wadham College takes great pride in its female founder Dorothy, who, after the death of her husband Nicholas in 1609, took responsibility for translating his intentions into reality and founded the college in 1610. As an all-male College, Wadham’s links to the Suffragette movement were limited. However, Wadham-owned 35 Holywell Street (staircase 14, next to the Holywell Music Room) is listed as the 1899 address for the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. At that time, suffragist Jane W Kirkaldy, MA, the distinguished Zoologist and Tutor at Somerville College, is listed as the occupant.
The National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, founded in 1897, was formed from local suffrage societies. The union was led by Millicent Fawcett, who believed in constitutional campaigning, issuing leaflets, organising meetings and presenting petitions. In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst founded the more radical and militant Women's Social and Political Union, given the name ‘Suffragettes’ by the Daily Mail.
Joseph Wells (1855-1929) became Warden of Wadham College in 1913 and was a well-known supporter of women’s education at Oxford. However, it was not until 1974 that Wadham became one of the first five all-male Oxford colleges to admit women, leading the trend across Oxford towards the admission of women.
Suffragists not only had to convince men, they also had to convince women of their right to vote. In Wadham's Ante Chapel is a monument to Ethel Harrison (1851–1916), an opponent of women's suffrage, and husband Frederic Harrison who became an Honorary Fellow at Wadham in 1899.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, positivist and essayist Ethel Harrison’s reading was guided by her first cousin, Frederic Harrison (1831–1923), twenty years her senior, whom she married on 17 August 1870.
“Like her husband, Mrs Harrison was a prominent opponent of women's suffrage. Biological and Comtist theories had persuaded them that women were unsuited to political activities, which in any case would compromise their functions as wives and mothers. In 1889 she solicited signatures from notable women for an influential Nineteenth Century appeal against franchise reform. When the Women's National Anti-Suffrage League was founded in 1908, she served on its executive committee; she organised its first branch, in Hawkhurst, Kent, where the Harrisons had settled in 1902, and wrote The Freedom of Women, a much noticed pamphlet. She also composed songs for league meetings, though a heart condition kept her from attending most of them.”
Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared
From 6 March 2018 to 3 February 2019 the Weston Library in Oxford is hosting a free exhibition, Sappho to Suffrage: women who dared.
Pirates and poets; suffragettes and explorers - this exhibition celebrates the achievements of women who dared to do the unexpected. Sappho to Suffrage showcases some of the Bodleian's most remarkable and treasured items.
Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm