Free learning resources from arts, cultural and heritage organisations.

Women’s Rights Timeline

This timeline shows the treatment of women in politics, life and work from 1832 - 1992.

1832 The Great Reform Act is passed. The Act specifies that voting is only for ‘male persons’.

Before then a very small number of women had been able to vote as property owners. This is because they were never formally banned just for being women, but were highly unlikely to own their own property. Mary Smith of Stanmore in the county of York petitioned Parliament, protesting against the Act . It was very unusual for a woman to do this at the time. (There's more about Mary in the chapter 'Mary Smith’s Story').

1834 The Poor Law Act is introduced to try and reduce the costs of looking after the poor in England. New workhouses were built for the poorest people, where they would have to carry out difficult tasks such as breaking stones. In return they were given a place to sleep and a meal. Men, women, boys and girls were all housed separately so families were split up.

In the Workhouse, women were only allowed to keep their children with them until they were two years old.

1837 Victoria comes to the throne after the death of William IV

1838 Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist' is published

1838 Slavery is abolished across the British empire

1839 The Child Custody Act allowed women who were separated from their husbands to keep any of her children that were under 7 years old. Any that were older automatically stayed with the father.

1849 Important artists establish the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

1851 The Great Exhibition opens at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London, attracting over 6 million visitors

1851 Sheffield Female Political Association was formed. It is thought to be the first women’s suffrage organisation in the UK and was established to try and address the problems brought in by the 1832 Reform Act.

It was led by Anne Kent and Anne Knight. They passed a resolution supporting votes for women, which George Howard, 7th Earl of Carlisle submitted to the House of Lords as a petition.

1859 Charles Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species' is published

1866 The Women’s Suffrage Petition.

The Petition was organised by the members of The Kensington Society, a debating society for women. It had been signed by 1466 women in total. Around 100 of these women were from Leeds. Unfortunately the campaign was defeated in Parliament. The women were so outraged by this that several Women's Suffrage campaign groups were formed.

1870 The Married Woman’s Property Act allowed women to keep their own property after marriage. Before this Act a woman’s property was automatically given to her husband once they were married.

1874 The Factories Act Amendment Bill
The purpose of this Act was to reduce working hours for women and children. You might think this was a good thing because of the poor working conditions in Victorian times. Suffragists actually felt that it stopped women making their own decisions about going out to work. What do you think?

1880 Education becomes compulsory for children under ten.

1882 The Married Woman’s Property Act. Women obtain the right to keep their own property, their own wages and any inherited property or money. Before this Act all married women’s property and money were controlled by her husband.

1894 The Local Government Act is introduced. This Act allowed all rate payers, male and female, to vote in some local elections. (Rates were the same as the Council Taxes adults have to pay now). Women were allowed to stand for local Council positions. For the first time the working class had a vote and a voice. This was huge progress but there were still many people that were not allowed to vote.

1897 Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS – the Suffragists) to campaign peacefully for the vote.

It brought together a number of suffrage societies from different parts of the country so they could all combine their work as well as stay active in their own local areas.

1901 Queen Victoria dies and is succeeded by Edward VII

1903 The Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) was formed by Emmeline Pankhurst. Emmeline and others were worried that the campaigning by the suffragists would not get results, so they wanted to try something different. They were known to be militant campaigners, and earned the nickname suffragettes, as they were more physically active than the suffragists.

This meant they disrupted public meetings, broke windows, and carried out other actions that got themselves sent to prison to draw attention to their cause.

There were lots of other suffrage organisations, including a few that were also militant to some extent, but the WSPU were the best known.

1914 The outbreak of the First World War. Many women stopped their campaigns and dedicated their energies to working towards the war effort. Some were involved in recruitment, some worked in munitions factories or took on men’s jobs such as tram conductors, and others helped to fundraise for a wide variety of causes. Some women disagreed with the war and campaigned for peace.

It is widely believed that the work women did during the war helped the government to take them more seriously.

Organisations such as the NUWSS also continued working behind the scenes to have their efforts rewarded with the vote.

1918 The Representation of the People Act is introduced. This gave some women over the age of 30 the right to vote in political elections. And it gave all men over the age of 21 the vote. Women were also permitted to stand for election.

1919 Nancy Astor became the first female MP to take her seat in Parliament after a by-election. The first woman elected as an MP was Constance Markievicz in 1918, but she never took her seat as she represented Sinn Fein who never attend Westminster.

1928 The Equal Franchise Act is introduced. This Act finally gave all women over the age of 21 are given the right to vote in political elections.

1929 The first General Election where women are allowed to vote on an equal footing with men.

1948 Introduction of the NHS. Before this, only people with medical insurance were able to access medical care easily, and it was mainly men who received this through employment. The NHS gave women equal access to free healthcare.

1958 The Life Peerages Act meant that women were allowed to take seats in the House of Lords for the first time.

1964 The Married Women’s Property Act allowed women to legally keep half of any money they saved that was given as an allowance by their husbands.

1968 Women at the Ford factory in Dagenham went on strike to campaign for better pay as they were paid far less than male workers.

1970 Equal Pay Act was introduced in response to the striking women at Dagenham and growing protests. It meant that, for the first time, it was illegal to pay men and women different amounts for equal work at the same company.

1975 The Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women in work, education or training.

In the same year, the Employment Protection Act was introduced which introduced statutory maternity provision and made it illegal to sack women who were pregnant.

1979 Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female British Prime Minister

1987 Diane Abbot is elected as the first Black female MP in Parliament

1992 Betty Boothroyd MP, who was born in Dewsbury, became the first female Speaker in the House of Commons