• Votes for women
10 Feb | Gender Equality | Women in Politics

Women and Power: giving a voice to the struggle for suffrage

National Trust shines a light on women's histories to celebrate the anniversary of female suffrage in 2018

Photo credit: National Trust

The long struggle for women’s suffrage and the debates it inspired across the homes, workplaces and communities of England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be explored in 2018 as part of the National Trust’s commemoration to mark 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act.

The 1918 Act granted some women the right to vote in British parliamentary elections for the first time. A century on, the conservation charity will launch Women and Power, a year-long national programme celebrating this historic milestone.

Events, exhibitions, on-site tours and creative commissions will take place at properties with links to both sides of the suffrage movement. The Trust has also invited a number of contemporary thinkers and artists to reflect on the significance of the centenary of women’s suffrage at places around the country, including Knole, Wightwick, Cragside and Tyntesfield.

Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart

Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry (1878-1959), lived at Mount Stewart, County Down. She was an aristocrat, wife, mother and political hostess, but had no doubts of women's worth outside the home. From a privileged position in society, she used her influence to empower others, forming the Women's Legion in 1915, which provided female cooks for the military, ambulance drivers and mechanics during Word War I. Never afraid to push the boundaries, Edith advocated that women farmworkers should swap their skirts for breeches!

Edith campaigned for suffrage for what she called 'duly qualified women' and became the first Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1917 in recognition of her war efforts. 

  • Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart, Marchioness of Londonderry

Photo credit: Library of Congress

Gertrude & Eleanor Acland

Conflict between generations with differing views on suffrage was not uncommon. Both Gertrude (1853-1920) and Eleanor (1880-1933) used Killerton, in Devon, to entertain friends and political colleagues, but they held deeply contrasting views on women's suffrage. Gertrude felt so strongly against it that she held an anti-suffrage garden party at Killerton in 1910, urging women to unite to defeat the movement.

Eleanor, on the other hand, passionately endorsed votes for women and played a leading role as a nationally prominent suffragist, often exchanging letters with suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, advocating a non-militant campaign. She played a leading role in the Liberal Women's Suffrage Union, eventually running (albeit unsuccessfully) as the Liberal Party candidate for Exeter in 1931.

  • Eleanor Acland
  • Gertrude Acland

Source: DevonLife, 6 February 2018

Agnes Pochin & Laura McLaren

Agnes Pochin (1825-1908) was an early British campaigner for women's rights. In 1855, she wrote a pamphlet advocating women's suffrage, and in 1868 was one of the key speakers at the meeting of the Manchester National Society for Women's suffrage - a starting point for the campaign for women's suffrage in Britain. In the audience was Agnes' teenage daughter, Laura (1854-1933), who drew inspiration from her mother. Both mother and daughter campaigned on women's rights and suffrage, and Laura became part of the executive committee of the National Society for Women's Suffrage in 1877. She travelled across the country to address meetings and rallies, and in 1910 led a group to Downing Street to confront Prime Minister Asquith about his opposition to women's rights.

From an early age, Laura helped her father to run the Bodnant Estate. Becoming an acclaimed gardener in her own right, Laura expanded and improved, the now world-class, Bodnant Garden, eventually handing over its management to her son, Henry, so she could concentrate on political life.

  • Agnes Pochin
  • Laura McLaren

Photo credit: National Trust

National Trust, Women and Power, 27 November 2017