Your Grandmother – Use Electoral Records to Help You Hear Her Voice
Isn’t it great when our personal family history gets caught up in our country’s history – or maybe even world history? Especially since some members of our family lived through very exciting times. Whenever I read about some momentous or terrifying event in history, I wonder if one of my ancestors were there.
For example, everyone in the UK learns at school about how women won the right to vote: some in 1918; full suffrage in 1928. We learn about how women protested and demanded the vote. We learn about the first women standing for election.
But what about ordinary women, living ordinary lives? Imagine the first time they actually voted. It was probably your grandmother or great-grandmother. She walked into a booth, in a church hall or school, and placed a cross next to her own choice of candidate. No one got to know who she voted for.
Did you know that the first woman to ever vote in Britain was Frances Connelly? The Mail Online tells us that she voted in the 1911 by-election in South Somerset. By mistake, the authorities sent her a polling card, confusing ‘Frances’ with ‘Francis’ – a man. Frances decided to use the card. You can imagine the fuss when she arrived at the polling station. There were huddles and discussions. But the presiding officer, W. W. Henley, said that the rules for voting were: the voter had to show that they were the person named on the polling card; the person could only vote once. No one had bothered to include a rule about gender. So Frances Connelly voted. If your family lived in South Somerset at that time, they probably knew all about it.*
On 6 February 1918, Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act. It gave the vote to 8.5 million women. They had to be over 30 and they had to meet a property qualification. It’s worth checking to see whether you have an ancestress that got the vote for the election later that year. I decide to find out whether any of the women in my husband’s family were on the electoral roll. Using the PCs in the Lower Library, I search for May Helena Abrahart, living in Hammersmith, London. She’s not recorded although her husband is on the roll from the late 1890’s.
On 2 July 1928, all women over 21 achieved the same voting rights as men. This made 15 million women eligible and, no doubt, enabled your grandmother or great-grandmother to finally vote. You may have photos of these women; you probably have their birth and marriage records. For some families, elderly relatives may still be alive and be able to tell you what it was like on 30 May 1929 when all women could vote in the general election. I check the electoral rolls for Hammersmith again – and there she is, with her husband, Richard James Abrahart. I also look at some of the local London papers, describing the women coming to the polls that day. May Helena Abrahart, a laundress from an estate in London, was one of those women.
If you find that your grandmothers or great-grandmothers are on the electoral rolls from 1918 to 1929 or that they voted in those early elections, let us know:
- tell us on our Facebook page
- tweet us - @SoGGenealogist
* Story from the Mail Online, 25 January 2018.
You can find out a whole lot more about how to trace the women in your family tree and about how women got the vote in trip to the view the Suffrage collection at the Women’s Library on Friday 9 February. Book online on our werbsite