Extending the vote to workers, female & male

If you’re based in the United Kingdom, you’ll no doubt be aware that 6 February 2018 marks a significant anniversary: the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, 1918. This landmark piece of legislation gave the vote to some women if they met particular conditions, and to the majority of men over 21. This has a huge step towards gender and class equality – and we thought it would be interesting to have a quick look at the implications for those people in our project database.

There are some underlying assumptions to this. The database only runs until mid-1915, so it certainly isn’t a full picture. Clearly those people who were killed in accidents weren’t around in 1918 to benefit from the Act, but for convenience we’re assuming that all those who were injured survived long enough to see the Act in. This gives us a total of 3,137 individuals.

Only two of these were women; the one other female case in the database was a fatality, and so has been excluded from this brief survey. In our post looking at one of the cases of women’s injury we’ve had a preliminary think about what the accident says about how typical accidents to railwaywomen were. Both of the injured women would – if they met the requirements relating to property and marriage/ appearing on the Local Government Register – likely have been able to vote following the Act.

Of the remaining 3,135 men who were injured, 3,041 were either over 21 when the accident occurred, or would have been over 21 by 1918. Assuming they weren’t already eligible to vote, the Act would have enfranchised these men too. Clearly class and gender were both interconnected in how people understood their identities, and came into play when it came to the Representation of the People Act 1918.

There was, by 1918, a reasonably lengthy history of railway workers voting, supporting friendly MPs (initially Liberals, later Labour), and even standing for Parliament themselves. Jimmy Thomas, the Welsh railwayman, was perhaps the most famous of the latter camp, an MP since 1910 and eventually forming part of various governments in the 1920s and 1930s. Across this period issues relating to safety and accidents at work were significant, and workers – initially male and from 1918 some female – might be able to use their vote to raise their case in Parliament.

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