The House Of Parliament: A Man’s World

1696 words - 7 pages

Among the lavishly tiled ceilings, detailed floors, ornate statues, and plush couches of the Houses of Parliament are several metal grates that decorate the windows of the Central Lobby. The grates fit in well with the gothic style of the building, a nice decoration that upgrades an otherwise dull opening in the wall. However, the Central Lobby was not the original home of the grates. The grates originally adorned the windows of the Ladies’ Gallery in the House of Commons, installed in 1834. Any woman wishing to see the proceedings and debates had to sit behind the grates, blocking the view and limiting the ability to hear. As feminist and suffragette Millicent Fawcett stated, “it was like ...view middle of the document...

Though support was minimal, the issue was still brought before the House of Commons. The first debate occurred on May 20, 1867. In this debate, John Stuart Mill proposed that women should vote “on the same terms as men” (The Women's Suffrage Movement). Unfortunately, the corresponding amendment was struck down with 194 votes against and 73 votes in favor. Despite the amendment’s failure, Mill started the conversation about women’s rights in the House of Commons. From 1867 on, “attempts to pass legislation on the subject were made during almost every parliamentary session” (House of Commons Background Paper, Page 4).
With discussion of women’s rights in full swing, women began to organize. In 1897, Millicent Fawcett formed the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Shortly after, in 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union. Through hunger strikes, protests, demonstrations, and lobbying, these groups among others generated sympathy for the cause of women’s right to political participation and representation. In 1908, women from the Women’s Freedom League chained themselves to the grates of the Ladies’ Gallery, causing a stir and demonstrating the plight the grates caused. The grates were removed in 1917 and women were allowed to sit in the Stranger’s Gallery.
At the time the grates were removed, many people were in favor of the female representation in Parliament. Finally, in 1918, the Qualification of Women Act passed, allowing women to be elected into the House of Commons. The following election had only 17 female candidates out of 1,623 total, and resulted in the election of Countess Constance de Markievicz. However, Countess Markievicz never took her seat due to her membership to Sinn Fein. In 1919, Nancy Astor became the first woman to sit in the House of Commons. Even with women sitting in the House of Commons, they were not considered equal to male representatives. The first three women in the House of Commons were not taken seriously and were thought to only be playing at politics, as their seats had previously occupied by their husbands. Other members did not take well to the female presence: Winston Churchill was known to “blush at the sight of a woman politician in Parliament” (Women's Battle for the Vote). He even went so far as to insult female members. To Nancy Astor, Churchill remarked, “you, Madam, are ugly but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly” (Winston Churchill Tops Poll of History's Funniest Insults).
Women continued to climb upwards in Parliament, with more women elected to the House of Commons throughout the years. With more female representation in the House of Commons, women felt that they deserved representation in the House of Lords. The issue was brought forward in 1922, when the House of Lords Committee for Privileges heard the Rhondda Case. In this case, David Alfred Thomas, Viscount Rhondda, requested that his daughter take his title. His daughter, Margaret...

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