On 14th December 1918, after decades of campaigning, women finally won the right to vote in British elections.
This achievement just involved 40% of the female British population however, as only women from the age of 30 were allowed to vote. Nevertheless, it represented a milestone for further achievements and opened the door for future ‘conquests’. Ten years later, in 1928, women were finally given the right to vote on equal terms with men by the Equal Franchise Act.
By 1918 women had been campaigning for the vote for over 50 years and during that time the campaign had been continually evolving, responding to changes in the nature of both politics and society. It was a long process marked by notable personalities, such as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who was a pioneering physician and political campaigner and the first English woman to qualify as a doctor. After being refused admittance to several medical schools, including Oxford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews and the Royal College of Surgeons, Anderson was then admitted at the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in the City of London.
In 1865, she finally took her exam and obtained a licence (LSA) from the Society of Apothecaries to practise medicine, the first woman qualified in Britain to do so. The entry of women into higher education and the founding of secondary schools to provide an academic education for girls reshaped the public perception of what a woman could do. Sadly though after that, the Society of Apothecaries immediately amended its regulations to prevent other women obtaining a licence and it was not until 1876 that the new Medical Act passed, which allowed British medical authorities to license all qualified applicants whatever their gender.
In 1872 Elizabeth founded the New Hospital for Women in London, staffed entirely by women. In 1918 the New Hospital for Women was renamed the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital. The archives of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital are held at the London Metropolitan Archives.
In 1902, Anderson retired to Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast. On 9 November 1908, she was also elected mayor of Aldeburgh, the first female mayor in England.
This is only one of the thousands of fascinating stories about women who campaigned to guarantee fundamental rights and opportunities for future generations. They tell stories of courage, determination and camaraderie which are to be celebrated on the 102nd anniversary of British women’s right to vote; a communal and powerful step towards equality.