Heartland - Petra's Scotland pages

(suffrage = A power to vote, from the Latin „suffragium“ = „vote“)

Women form 52% of the world population.

Although in the industrial countries women theoretically have achieved “equal rights”, the majority of the world is still male-dominated and women are oppressed, maltreated, exploited, raped and even killed.

I am conscious of the fact that every woman right had to be won bitterly and we nowadays benefit from the courage, strength and willpower of our predecessors.

For me, these women are heroes and although most hero epic poems tell of men, most monuments are dedicated to war and “great warriors", these women have changed the world and also formed our society of today.

One of the rights women have won around the turn of the century is the women’s right to vote. The movement in Scotland was led by

Scotland’s suffragettes

and was mainly active in between 1860 and 1918. Women were excluded from voting at all, they could not obtain higher education (and certainly not a medical one), and the property laws were iniquitous for married women.

Scotland’s first Suffrage groups appeared in the late 1860s. Suffragists demanded justice and equality for all women, using legal tactics to try to win support by discussion and debate. They sent petitions to Parliament, wrote letters to MPs, distributed leaflets and organised meetings.

After 30 years of peaceful campaigning and achieving only minor change, more militant campaigners began to emerge, mainly from England.

Millicent FawcettThe move for women to have the vote had really started in 1897 when Millicent Fawcett (1847 – 1929) founded the "National Union of Women's Suffrage". She believed in peaceful protest, patience and logical arguments. However, Fawcett's progress was very slow.

Emmeline PankhurstThis left many women angry and in 1903 the "Women's Social and Political Union" was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia.

They wanted women to have the right to vote and they were not prepared to wait, they would even break the law and go to prison for their beliefs.

Scottish Suffragettes poured acid into pillar boxes, chained themselves to railings, smashed windows and slashed portraits of the King. They also set fire to important buildings such as Leuchars Railway Station, Ayr Racecourse and the Whitekirk in East Lothian.

The "Cat and Mouse" Act 1913:

When they had been put to prison, Suffragettes often went on hunger strike and the authorities' attempts to force-feed them provoked a major public outcry. The government was very concerned that they might die in prison thus giving the movement martyrs. Eventually in 1913, the Government passed the Prisoners' Temporary Discharge Act, or "Cat and Mouse" Act. This allowed imprisoned women to be released, regain their strength and then be re-arrested to complete their sentence. Often before re-arrest these women escaped police surveillance and joined in further protests. Research does indicate that the act did not do a great deal to deter the activities of the Suffragettes.

However, the start of the war in August 1914, and the ending of all Suffragette activities for the duration of the war, means that the potentially full impact of the 'Cat and Mouse Act' will never be known.

The nickname of the act came about because of a cat’s habit of playing with its prey (a mouse) before finishing it off.

In 1908 the Scottish headquaters of the “Women’s Social and Political Union” opened in Glasgow.

Shortly afterwards, Dr. Elsie Inglis, one of the first women to graduate from a Scottish university, launched her Scottish Women’s Suffrage Movement in Edinburgh.

When World War I began, Dr. Inglis offered her medical services to the War Office at the outbreak of hostilities. She was politely told by the faceless civil service bureaucrat who interviewed her: “My good lady, go home and sit still”. Fortunately she didn’t so, and instead set up a chain of all-women hospitals and ambulance stations along the western front. Herr stubbornness and that of thousands like her, won in the end.

In 1918, women in Britain finally won their right to vote and stand in general elections, if they were over 30 and met minimum property qualifications.
(click here for the "Representation of the People Act 1918")

They didn’t waste any time exercising that power. Eunice Murray has the distinction of being the first woman to stand in a general election, as an Independent for Glasgow Bridgeton in 1918; she came third.

On 6th of May 1999, 48 (out of 129, which means 37 per cent) women were returned as Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP).


Years of the introduction of the right to vote for half the population of a country - women:
1869  Wyoming
1893  New Zealand
1902  Australia
1906  Finland
1913  Norway
1915  Denmark, Island
1917  Canada, The Netherlands, Soviet Union
1918  Germany, England/Scotland, Ireland, Luxembourg
1919  Austria, Poland, Sweden, Czechoslovakia
1920  USA
1924  Mongolia
1929  Ecuador
1931  Ceylon, Spain
1932  Brazil, Thailand, Uruguay
1934  Cuba, Turkey
1935  India
1937  Philippines
1942  Dominican Republic
1944  France
1945  Italy, Liberia
1946  Albania, Japan, Yugoslavia, Panama, Romania, South Africa.
1947  Argentina, Bulgaria, Burma, China, Venezuela.
1948  Belgium, Israel, Korea.
1949  Chile, Costa Rica, Hungary
1952  Greece
1971  Switzerland
1990  Sub-canton Appenzell-Innerrhoden in Switzerland.

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