General Election Day 14th December 1918
Today we have another of Carol’s blog articles about women’s history recorded in the archives to share with you. In this article Carol looks at how the newspapers in Warrington discussed the issue of women voters:
A few weeks after the 11th November Armistice a General Election was held. Under the terms of The People’s Representation Act 1918 for the first time propertied women over 30 years of age were about to vote and in Warrington there were over 12,700 qualified female voters. There was some speculation in the local press as to whether there would be any female candidates but the emphasis prior to the Election was upon the importance of using the hard won votes wisely. I will now go on to look at some post General Election newspaper articles.
According to the Warrington Guardian (18th December 1918 page 3) male voters at the polling stations were outnumbered by women voters. The morning was especially busy with women who “were less reticent than the men in their political predilection”. In the reports a number of women revealed who they were voting for and asked questions such as “Where do I vote for Harold Smith please?”, which amused the Special Constable. They also believed there was a separate ballot box for each candidate and the thrill of voting for the first time was described by one woman as “I’m trembling like a leaf!”
There is an article by a correspondent titled “How A Vote Was Won – And Lost” (Warrington Guardian 18th December 1918 page 5). In many instances husbands and wives arrived together to vote but in this article we also get a description of the debate taking place in the home prior to voting. Mrs Potts did not like to vote as she was too nervous and excited fearing she might put the cross in the wrong place. Mr Potts was trying to convince her to vote. He felt “the great cause of future peace” was at stake. He also explained where she should place the cross. Mrs Potts was continuing her baking whilst mulling over the issue, when a canvasser called and she was won over by the prospect of being transported to the polling station in a luxurious motor car. In the meantime her husband discussed political matters with the canvasser. On returning home Mrs Potts pulled out the voting paper. In response Mr Potts exclaimed “why you have not voted”. Mrs Potts announced that she had received a voting paper that morning with a cross printed on it and she put that in the ballot box. How should we interpret this? Was it a truthful description, all tongue in cheek, or was it expressing an attitude that women were child-like and needed guidance?
In “Incidents Of The Fight” (Warrington Examiner 21st December 1918 page 4) the article claimed that generally women were embarrassed about voting as it was “too difficult and bothersome”. The easiest way out of this was not to vote at all. Husbands replied by saying it was simple and very important to vote. These comments were compromised by the husband adding the comment of a promise to look round the shops afterwards. The article however also stated how important it was to vote as the enfranchised were exercising power and a privilege.
The only named female voter amongst the articles was Hannah Eyres who we met in an earlier blog. She spoke of her novel and enjoyable experiences of being driven to the Hamilton Street polling station by a canvasser and voting for the winning candidate, Conservative Mr Harold Smith. She commented that she was staunchly Conservative in her politics and remarked that she had a lively interest in current affairs. (Warrington Guardian 21/12/1918 page 8)
The very brief consideration of women’s actual opinions or beliefs shows a failure by the newspapers to even attempt to comprehend or investigate women’s political views.
In these reports the Pre WW1 attitudes seem to have prevailed. In spite of women’s war time contributions and political struggles they continued to be portrayed as child-like. They found it difficult to make decisions, did not understand the political process of how to vote and above all they were defined by domesticity. In today’s political climate the reports can be categorised as “stereotyping” as women were reported in terms of their dependence upon men’s guiding influence.