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Topical Budget 324-2: Will There Be Women M.P.s? (1917)


Main image of Topical Budget 324-2: Will There Be Women M.P.s? (1917)
35mm, black and white, 54 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

Mrs Pankhurst, 'General' Drummond, Miss Christabel Pankhurst and Miss Kenny are met with enthusiasm at a meeting held at Queen's Hall to found a Women's Parliamentary Party.

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This Topical Budget item was first screened in November 1917, at a time when women neither had the vote nor the ability to stand for Parliament. Despite this, suffragette pioneers Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, Flora Drummond (known as 'the General') and Annie Kenny decided to found a Women's Parliamentary Party. Though it had little success, it was an important symbolic gesture.

The answer to the question posed in the title came sooner than many expected, thanks to two pieces of legislation passed over the next few months. In February 1918, primarily in recognition of the unprecedented female contribution to the war effort, the Representation of the People Act allowed most women over the age of 30 to vote (voting ages would not be equalised for another decade). At the end of October, the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Bill was passed, allowing women over 21 to stand for election, even though they had to be over 30 to actually vote in one.

The first female MP was elected just over a month later, in December 1918. However, the victory of the Countess de Markievicz (1868-1927) had nothing to do with Suffragette campaigning - her (Polish husband's) name notwithstanding, she was actually Anglo-Irish, and stood for Parliament on the back of her record as a participant in the Dublin Easter Rising of 1916. Representing Sinn Fein, she refused to take her seat. Numerous prominent figures in the suffragette movement had also contested the same election, but were unsuccessful.

The following year, the US-born Nancy Astor (1879-1964) became the first female MP to actually take her seat (on the Conservative benches), after she successfully contested a by-election at her husband's former Plymouth Sutton seat (he had been elevated to the peerage). Her election literature promised "I intend to work for the Peace, Progress and Prosperity of the Country. I shall, at the same time, have due regard to National Efficiency and Economy which women above all understand" - though she also had no track record as a women's rights campaigner. However, she held the seat until her retirement in June 1945, making her by far the most prominent female politician of her era.

Michael Brooke

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Topical Budget 641-2: Labour's First Woman MP (1923)