Voice and Vote
Book Launch at Westminster Abbey
This timely reminder of the remedying of a great injustice needed a fitting celebration on the occasion of its centenary. In the atmospheric setting of the Cloisters of Westminster Abbey, adorned with memorials to the famous, St James’s House launched Voice and Vote. It tells the story of the appalling way women were treated in Parliament and the fight for their right to vote, as well as their ultimate victory and their subsequent struggle for equality.
It comes as a shock to learn that before Parliament burnt down in 1834, women were only able to listen to debates in the cramped and claustrophobic loft space seating eight known as the Ventilator, after having been banned from the public galleries in 1778. After it was rebuilt, they had to watch from a special gallery known as “the Cage”, where they were hidden from view. The unwelcoming common room designated for the use of the first women MPs was known as “The tomb”.
It was only in 1918 that a law, the Representation of the People Act, was passed giving the first women voting rights along with universal suffrage for men over 21.
To enable publication of this volume, over 240 of its 356 pages were taken up by advertisements and The History of Parliament Trust was a partner.
There were some excellent speeches, where the emphasis was not only on what had been achieved but on how far there still is to go to achieve real equality. Eliza Wills-Crisp welcomed the guests on behalf of the publishers, St James’s House. Hanneke Smits, the Chief Executive Officer of Newton Investment Management, stressed the benefits of a genuine gender balance to industry. There was also a fine speech by Professor Lord Norton of Louth, who is one of the History of Parliament’s Trustees, which stressed the immense social and political importance of the anniversary.
This launch was linked to the free exhibition Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament, which is open to the public in Westminster Hall, the most historic part of the Palace of Westminster. This was an occasion to salute the pioneers of suffrage but even today, it is truly shocking that there is still so much inequality between the sexes.