100 years ago today the first British women were given the right to vote. Here are a few of those women and some of the stories about the first women to vote in our Labour family.
Gertrude Emily Luther, President of the Local Women’s Institute
Furzedown councillor, Candida Jones’ great grandmother, Gertrude Emily Luther, was 47 when she was able to vote for the first time in February 1918. Her brother, Herbert, was able to vote 17 years before his big sister could.
By the time Gertrude was able to cast her first vote she had raised a family of 11 children, worked as a nanny for the local vicar and opened a village shop.
During her life, she was President of the Local Women’s Institute and Secretary of the Mothers’ Union.
Frances Sylvester Ellis – a suffragette?
Frances Sylvester Ellis, born in 1888 in Folkestone, was Tooting member Suzanne Ellis’s maternal grandmother. In 1918, aged 30, Frances was amongst the youngest first-time women voters. In adulthood, Suzanne changed her name to Ellis to follow her maternal line.
Suzanne says she has always wondered about the sash her grandmother is wearing – she hopes it might be a suffragette sash…
Bedford councillor (Kathleen) Fleur Anderson is named after her maternal great grandmother, Kathleen Bond.
Born in 1862, Kathleen was 56 when she won the right to vote in 1918, ahead of her daughter, Fleur’s grandmother, who had to wait another 8 years before she could cast her vote.
Lillian Mabel Sharman – an advocate for workers’ rights
Mabel (3rd from left), as she was known, was Nightingale Candidate Rebecca Wilson’s Grandmother and the first woman in her family to vote. Born in 1907, she had to wait until 1928 to cast her first vote.
She spent much of her working life in service and then in the potteries in Stoke-on-Trent where she became a big advocate of workers’ rights, leading the women on the aero-graphing shop floor in her own quiet way.
She instilled the importance of voting in her three daughters, as did they in their children.
Nellie Florence Cunningham– first vote, first time in a Rolls Royce
Nellie Florence Cunningham, born in January 2, 1888 was Battersea Cllr Tony Belton’s paternal grandmother. Nellie must also have been among the youngest first time female voters in the country, having turned 30 just 35 days before the Representation of the People’s Act came into force.
Tony recalls his grandmother telling him about the first time she voted.
At the time, Nellie lived upstairs with 4 children aged between 2-8. Her downstairs neighbour came knocking to say that there was a man in the street offering to take them to the polling station in a big white open-topped car to vote, “but he’s a Tory”.
“Sod that”, said Tony’s Grandma, “it’s a secret ballot; of course we can accept a lift”.
It was Nellie Cunningham’s first and last time in a Roller.
That same year, her husband Ernest died in the flu epidemic of 1918.
Mary Ellen Slattery – Balham resident of 40 years
Mary Ellen Slattery (the baby in this photo) was the grandmother of Balham resident Jill D’Cruz.
Born in 1878, Mary was 40 the first time she cast her vote. A couple of years later, she moved to Ramsden Road in Balham where she lived until she died in 1961.
She ran the Holy Ghost parish from 137 Ramsden Road and was seemingly able to vet and approve all incoming Priests, always with a bottle of whisky on the table.
Bedford candidate Clare Fraser is named after her great aunt, Clare Huddart. One of 10 children, Clare was brought up in the Wirral and gained the right to vote in 1918.
Local member, Maurice Mcleod’s mother Barbara, was born in Jamaica in 1946. She came to Britain in 1964 at 17 after a call went out to the Empire for help with the NHS and transport system.
Barbara worked as a nurse for 50 years while single-handedly bringing up 3 children of her own and adopting 3 others. She was the first woman in Maurice’s family to be able to vote in the UK.
Barbara has lived in Wandsworth ever since she arrived from Jamaica and has always voted Labour.
Eliza Ann Knowlson
Liza-Ann as she was known, was born in 1866 so she could not vote until she was 52. By then she had had married, born 6 six children and lost two; Winnie and Connie, to flu and diphtheria.
The thread that links these women to the men and women of today is not such a long one.
Women have seen revolutionary change over the last 100 years. Today, we have a lot to celebrate. We’ve seen female suffrage, female members of parliament, even female Prime Ministers. Unlike our foremothers, women today can have a career and marriage. But real equality between men and women is still a thing of the future.
To shape that future we must use the vote our mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers fought for.
The next elections will be the local Council elections on May 3rd. It is easy to register to vote. https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote