Celebrating the anniversary of female suffrage

Lady Londonderry
Published : 22 Nov 2017 Last update : 18 Jan 2018

In 2018, we are shining a light on the history of women to celebrate the anniversary of female suffrage.

1918 marks the Representation of the People Act, which granted some women the right to vote in British parliamentary elections for the first time. We are commemorating this anniversary by telling stories from our places, many of which have been overlooked until now.

Women and Power will see events, exhibitions, on-site tours and creative commissions taking place at properties with links to both sides of the suffrage movement. We have also invited a number of contemporary thinkers and artists to reflect on the significance of this centenary at places around the country.

Many of our places have unique stories to tell about the people involved in the fight for women’s suffrage, including:

  • Bodnant, Conwy, where suffragist Laura McLaren founded the Liberal Women’s Suffrage Union
  • Cliveden, Buckinghamshire, the home of Nancy Astor, the first female MP to take her seat in the House of Commons
  • Mount Stewart, County Down, where Edith, Lady Londonderry was an ardent suffragist and political campaigner, whose pro-suffrage behaviour caused her mother-in-law to label her ‘a young hound running riot’
  • Gunby Hall, Lincolnshire, the estate run by Emily Massingberd, who founded the Pioneer Club; a pro-suffrage members’ club for the advancement and education of women
  • Shaw’s Corner, Hertfordshire, home to playwright George Bernard Shaw, whose writings protesting the sexual double standard inspired the Pankhursts.
Nancy Astor: The first woman MP to take her seat
Painting of Nancy Astor by John Singer Sargent
Nancy Astor: The first woman MP to take her seat

In contrast, our programme will also explore some of those who opposed women’s suffrage, including the National Trust’s co-founder Octavia Hill, who suggested that ‘a serious loss to our country would arise if women entered into the arena of party struggle and political life’.

We are also continuing our successful partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, with a series of special displays around the Women and Power theme, and will be collaborating again with The National Archives on a pop-up heritage project in London.

Rachael Lennon, curator of the Women and Power programme, said: 'We can see the footprints of this intensely personal and political argument in the places and collections of the National Trust. A century on from the Representation of the People Act, our programme will reveal some of the debates heard in the drawing rooms, kitchens and bedrooms of National Trust places as the country fought openly over whether a woman might have a voice in public life.

Women and Power will explore the complexity of the histories of power and gender and will give voice to the, sometimes hidden, lives and legacies of women who lived and worked across the special places in the care of the National Trust.'

Over the course of the year, online and published resources will be available, including a podcast series and a new guidebook exploring the struggle for suffrage, co-authored by Rachael Lennon and Dr Sophie Duncan, a specialist in women’s political activities and the suffrage movement at the University of Oxford.

Women and Power is the theme for the second year of our ‘Challenging Histories’ programme. This national public programme aims to share, celebrate and unpick some of the more complex or hidden histories relevant to National Trust places.

Agnes Pochin, Laura McLaren and Priscilla Bright-McLaren

Learn more about Women and Power 

With a year of events and exhibitions, you’ll be able to discover how places we care for have been home to women of every background; women of incredible strength and determination, whose voices were often silenced. Join us to explore how their lives helped to shape the modern world.