This week the Irish media is full of stories about the centenary of Irish women getting the vote. Hundred years ago, on February 6th, the British parliament passed the Representation of the People Act of 1918, granting Irish women the right to vote.
Ireland’s freedom was still a few years away, and those were tumultuous times on this island. Resistance to British rule was gathering steam after the 1916 Easter Uprising. At the same time, the movement for women’s suffrage was pushing ahead.
A brief peek in history
It’s sobering to realize how long the struggle was and how long women in some countries had to wait. The Isle of Man extended voting rights to women who owned property in 1891, and New Zealand gave women the vote in 1893. Finland allowed women to vote and elected its first female representatives to parliament in 1907.
Women in other European countries watched eagerly, but some still had decades, even generations, to wait. French women got the vote in 1944, and Italian women in 1946.
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Some countries extended the vote conditionally, adding restrictions for women, such as having to be a certain age or own property. While Portugal gave some women the right to vote in 1931, it wasn’t until 1976 that Portuguese women had the same legal entitlement to vote as men.
Some regions in Japan allowed women to vote as early as 1880, but it wasn’t until 1945 that national law extended suffrage to women across the nation. Some Aboriginal women in Canada could not vote until 1960.
Suffrage and Sovereignty
The initial British Act did not give all women the right to vote in 1918. Instead, it stated men could vote at age 21, while women could not cast a ballot until age 30. In sharp contrast, Ireland’s first Dail (parliament) – formed before the country was free – included one woman: Constance Markievicz.
The 1921 Dail included six women when Kathleen Clarke, Ada English, Mary McSwiney, Kathleen O’Callaghan, and Margaret Pearse joined Markievicz. In 2016, Irish voters elected a record number of women to the Dail. Of the 158 members, 35 are women. (But this is still below the European Union average.)
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Irish women benefited from good timing. The suffrage movement was gaining momentum at the same time as the drive for Irish independence. We also had the benefit of some incredible women working on all fronts.
Many of the women who pushed for suffrage were also active in the independence movement. Constance Markievicz was a suffragette and founder of Cumann na mBan and the Irish Citizen’s Army. She was an armed combatant in the Easter Uprising, exchanging fire with the British, supervising troops, and setting up barricades.
Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, founder of the Irish Women’s Franchise League, delivered food and messages to the GPO during the Uprising. They are only two high-profile examples of the many women fighting for Ireland’s freedom and their own.
Irish jewelry to spoil your loved ones
Spoil her with meaningful gifts. Choose sparkly and pretty items that speak to her Irish heritage.