How Active Were Women In Politics Before 1901
Before 1901, women roles in politics were just being established as a typical concept/norm of society. Various events that took place such as the widening of the franchise, and the founding of the Primrose league that highlighted certain forms of activity for women in politics. However other factors can be taken in to consideration (negative effects of Primrose league and class inequality to name a few) which expresses some hindrance of women’s involvement in politics before the set time period.
So due to this, I believe that women were active in politics to a limited extent due to the common barriers women had to come across that does cancel out the positives. In 1884 the third reform act had increased the franchise as a whole (meaning peoples rights to vote in publish elections). In this case, an extra three million people were eligible to vote. This is a key point to take into account as the act also ‘restructured the constituencies’ meaning to reorganise the party as a whole. Due to this the government looked to women to run and be active in political activities.
A Source by C. Hirshfield based upon an article (linking to women suffrage) states ‘the service of paid agents’. This extract of the source can clearly indicate the fact women were involved with some forms of political activity, maybe being paid to help out in less major roles (supporting role). This factor can be interpreted as a negative, because it wasn’t a total sign of power on the behalf of women but is also seen as a positive due to the fact it had increased the growth of women’s political organisations. The Primrose League was set up in 1883 in order to promote the conservative party.
This event contributed to the positive and negative aspects affecting the involvement of women in politics. Firstly, the league had affected the conservative party by making them admit men and women on equal terms (favoured women). Source J, which is a text based (highlights certain information about the conservative party) justifies the point made above ‘which incorporated men and women on equal terms’. This again shows that women were given a fair chance against men to become active this type of political activity.
However, the party and Primrose league were far from being a total success in terms of women becoming for involved in political action, as the inequality of different classes started to appear (most predominantly the middle and working classes). As the membership of the conservative party was mainly hierarchical, it meant that factions would be implemented to worsen the situation. Another negative was the fact that women were rather involved with the social elements of the party, in contract to the real political aspects.
Source K (which is a speech based source by Mary Krout) covers the point above stating ‘presence of hundreds of women who were not there’. So the social side of the conservative party wasn’t appealing to a handful of women because they could looked at it being an extension of the ‘separate spheres’ concept. The true form of the Women’s Liberal association was established in 1887, when all different women associations merged together. This idea of women’s association would have given women greater depth in order to succeed in politics in general.
This particular liberal association for women operated separately from the male only associations and in turn had also gained the same duties as the other women in the primrose league. Source L (from C. Hirshfield) is from a liberal women’s party article. One part of the source, which is ‘leafleting and encouraging voters to register’, highlighting a similar link between the WLA and the concept of the Primrose league (having more of a social approach rather than a political one). So the association again helped women becoming more active in politics, but also had its limitations in increasing the span of control for women.
Local councils had also contributed to a general change towards women being active in the concept of politics. Due to the Local Government Act which was put into action during 1894 it meant married women joined the other types of women being able to stand as municipal councillors. However as there were only a few woman councillors that had participated in active political events, it meant that women were in a male-dominated position (can lead to not welcoming the women during times).
Overall women were persistency and good enough to help with welfare issues that were major in terms of local government. Source M (speech based source) by Baroness Patricia indicates that tensions were coming into play, meaning women had to overcome negative reactions towards men (in particular married men). It is mentioned in the source that ‘female suffrage would challenged male authority’ this means that men had feared this in actually taking place (resulting in opposition).
Overall, due to the many points listed I believe that women were active in Politics before 1901 to a limited extent. It is noted that women were more involved in government activity due to the fact there was a demand in voluntary services for women. However having said this, women were treated with less enthusiasm which affected their full contribute to government. So there was barrier in almost each stage that women had to surpass in order to completely be active in Politics before 1901.