1868: Woman fined for attempting to vote

The 100th anniversary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act is coming up (6th February). The act marked a first major victory in the fight for women to get the vote. Although it only granted women over 30, and who owned land, the right to cast a vote, it would soon lead to universal suffrage.

But it was a fight that had been going on for many years.

Here’s a story from 50 years before hand – published on September 25th 1868 in the Shrewsbury Chronicle.

At Leeds Borough Revision Court one woman went to court to claim her right to vote in an early test case. The revising barrister Mr. Campbell Foster was quick to make a judgment. And it seems he, and the rest of the courtroom, found the whole matter quite hilarious.

“if women were qualified to vote, they would be eligible to sit as members of parliament, to take office under government, or even to be cabinet ministers. (LAUGHTER). Suppose a lady occupied the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the night had arrived when the minister was expected to open his budget, it would be awkward [if] the intelligence was brought down to the House that the minister could not attend as she had been delivered of a fine boy. (LAUGHTER). For other ministers whose duty it was to answer questions, it would be to interfere with public business if it were stated that her baby were in the lobby and it was not convenient to “attend in her place.” (Roars of merriment). For these reasons he declined to accept the claim”

But the barrister went even further than simply rejecting the claim. Believing that it was not a claim of “reasonable and proper character, but frivolous” he fined her 10 shillings!

This was the typical attitude of the day, and the fine was also a deterrent, and it worked; there were some 30 other claimants who then decided not to make an appearance.

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