The Vote Before The Vote - Leeds women and the 19th century march towards the vote

Time Line 1832 - 1903


1832 The 1832 Reform Act specified “male persons” only as qualifying for the Parliamentary franchise.

Mary Smith of Stanmore in the County of York petitioned Parliament in protest.

1500 women card-setters at Peep Green, Hartshead, Yorkshire, went on strike for equal pay.
1834 The 1834 Poor Law Act assumed all women are dependent on men.

All illegitimate children are henceforward the sole financial responsibility of the mother until age 16.
1835 The 1835 Municipal Corporations Act specified male persons as voters in “incorporated towns” depriving qualified women of the local vote.

Within 10 years, 178 boroughs were created with their own elected Town Councils. Leeds was one of the first to apply for incorporation.
1839 The 1839 Child Custody Act allowed a non-adulterous separated wife custody of her children under the age of 7 and access to older children.


1841 The National Association (a Chartist group) included a demand for female suffrage in their programme.
1848 A resolution in favour of universal suffrage including women was supported by Disraeli.


1851 A Women’s Suffrage petition from The Sheffield Association for Female Franchise presented to the House of Lords.

The Sheffield Association expands to a national Women’s Rights Association - dissolved 1854
1857 The 1857 Divorce & Matrimonial Causes Act: husbands can gain a divorce on grounds of adultery only but a wife must prove adultery combined with desertion, cruelty, incest, bigamy or “unnatural vice”.


1866 The 1866 National Suffrage Petition: John Stuart Mill, MP for Westminster, agreed to present a women’s suffrage petition to Parliament if the organisers can obtain 100 signatures. They collected 1499 signatures, 106 from Leeds.
1867 The 1867 Reform Act extended the Parliamentary franchise to all householders and lodgers who paid £10 per year or more in rent.

National Societies for Women’s Suffrage formed in Manchester, London and Edinburgh
1868 1st petition from Leeds to Parliament in favour of women’s suffrage.

Approximately 8,000 women ratepayers attempt to have their names entered on the Electoral Register.

Thirteen women were successful and nine voted in the General Election. The Revising Magistrate in Leeds fines a widow, Mary Howells, 10s for bringing “a frivolous claim”. Read more about this strange event here
1869 The 1869 Municipal Franchise Act gave women ratepayers the right to vote in local elections including those for Poor Law Guardians. Women are also allowed to stand for election as Guardians.

Lydia Becker, Secretary to the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage, addressed a public meeting at Leeds Mechanics Institute. Leeds Mercury noted “many working men and women” in the audience. She was the first woman to speak in public in Leeds.


1870 The 1st (1870) Married Women’s Property Act allowed wives to keep their own earnings.
1870 The 1870 Elementary Education Act created a national network of schools managed by local elected School Boards.

Single and widowed women ratepayers allowed to vote in School Board elections and all women, irrespective of marital status, may stand for election.

3 women, Catherine Buckton, Constance Holland and Lucy Wilson stand in Leeds but are unsuccessful.

These were the first elections held by secret ballot.
1871 Rhoda Garrett addressed a public meeting at Leeds Mechanics Institute at which it was decided to form a Leeds branch of the Manchester National Society.
1872 The 1872 Ballot Act introduced the secret ballot for all parliamentary and local government elections.
1873 Leeds branch of the Manchester National Society became the Yorkshire Society for Women’s Suffrage and opened an office in Victoria Chambers, South Parade.

Catherine Buckton is elected to the Leeds School Board.
1874 First British medical school to train women as doctors opened in London.
1878 The 1878 Matrimonial Causes Act allowed a wife to use persistent cruelty as grounds for separation if her husband had a conviction for aggravated assault against her.

The University of London receives a supplementary charter allowing it to grant degrees to women

The British Medical Council allows women doctors to register for practice in the UK. They are only allowed to treat women and children.

The first woman doctor in Leeds, Edith Pechey, opens consulting rooms in Park Square.


1880 The Court of Appeal rules that married women cannot stand for election to local councils because they have no legal identity of their own.

Four women graduate with Bachelor of Arts degrees from University of London.
1881 The Isle of Man gave the Vote to women who own property in their own right following campaign there led by Alice Cliff Scatcherd.

In November, Women’s Suffrage Grand Demonstration in Bradford. Speakers include Alice Cliff Scatcherd and Louisa Carbutt.
1882 The 2nd (1882) Married Women’s Property Act allowed wives to retain control of property they owned, acquired before or after marriage.

In February: Women’s Suffrage Grand Demonstration in Sheffield. Speakers again include include Alice Cliff Scatcherd and Louisa Carbutt.
1883 Louisa Carbutt> and Gertrude Wilson elected as the first women Poor Law Guardians in Leeds.

The Co-operative Women’s Guild formed to improve the conditions of working women. Eventually there will be 18 branches in Leeds. Alice Cliff Scatcherd elected President of the Morley branch in 1894.
1883 The 1883 Corrupt Practices Act limits spending on elections.

In response, the Conservative Party form The Primrose League to organise its supporters. There were at least 6 “Habitations” in Leeds.

The Woman’s Primrose League rapidly gained thousands of members and created an influential base for female anti-women’s suffrage activity.
1883 The National Reform Congress of the Liberal Party, who advocate universal suffrage, held in Leeds; 9 elected women delegates attend including Alice Cliff Scatcherd.
1884 The 1884 Reform Act brought the rural franchise qualifications in line with the urban boroughs.

Only women and tenants paying less than £10 per year rent remain disenfranchised.
1887 Women’s Liberal Association formed to spread Liberal principals.
1888 Local Council Act
allowed women ratepayers to vote in County and Borough Council elections.
1889 An Appeal Against Female Suffrage, signed by 104 upper-class women, published. There were no signatories from Leeds.

Leeds branch of the Women’s Liberal Association formed: Alice Cliff Scatcherd and Isabella Ford were founding members.

Tailoresses Union formed in Leeds. 700 machinists at Messrs Arthur & Co strike unsuccessfully. Isabella Ford organised strike committee and appointed Union Secretary.


1890 Isabella Ford re-forms the Leeds Women’s Suffrage Society.
1891 The Court of Appeal ruled that a man could no longer imprison his wife in the marital home.
1892 Women’s Liberal Association splits over women’s suffrage and 10,000 anti-suffrage members break away to form the Women’s National Liberal Association.
1893 Independent Labour Party formed in Bradford, with Isabella Ford a founding member.

National women factory inspectors appointed.
1894 The 1894 Local Government Act:
  • Extended the local vote to married women ratepayers who owned property separately from their husbands.
  • Abolished the property qualification for Poor Law Guardians.
  • Allowed women to stand for Parish, Rural District & Urban District Councils.
Isabella Ford elected to Adel Parish Council.
1895 The 1895 Summary Jurisdiction (Married Women) Act allowed women to seek court protection from persistent cruelty.
1896 Oxford University voted against awarding degree status to women graduates by 165 votes to 65.

They argue if women are allowed degrees, they will be entitled to equal status, voting rights and a share in the governance of the University.
1897 National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies formed. The Leeds Suffrage Society (Isabella Ford), the Yorkshire Suffrage Society and The Franchise League (Alice Cliff Scatcherd) all join. Isabella Ford is elected to the Executive Committee and is Vice-President in 1907.

Cambridge University votes against awarding degree status to women graduates by 1,713 votes to 662.
1899 The 1899 London Government Act reorganised local government within the capital and excluded women from standing as Councillors.


1901 Lancashire Textile Workers’ Suffrage petition achieves 29,350 signatures from women mill and factory workers.
1902 Yorkshire and Cheshire Textile Workers Suffrage petition signed by 33,184 Yorkshire and 4,200 Cheshire women mill and factory workers. Isabella Ford helps to collect signatures and travels to London with the deputation.
1903 The 1903 Education Act abolished School Boards and placed all elementary (primary) schools into the care of Local Education Committees. The Education Committees had to include women - who were co-opted but not elected.

Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst forms the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in Manchester.