Vote for women: We celebrate century of change but must avoid complacency

Suffragette illustration from the ‘Irish Citizen’ newspaper

Exactly 100 years ago, in December 1918, Constance Markievicz became the first woman elected to the Westminster parliament, writes Louise Ryan

As we know, of course, she never took her seat there, but nonetheless, her election marked the end of a remarkable year.

In February 1918, women aged over 30 finally won the right to vote.

In November 1918, a bill was hurried through parliament allowing women to stand as candidates, and just one month later, a woman was finally elected at the general election.

This centenary year has also been remarkable in many ways. Commemorations of the suffrage movement have taken place throughout Ireland.

I had the pleasure of participating in some very memorable events, for example at Richmond Barracks Museum in Dublin, at the wonderful Mother Jones festival in Cork, and the West Cork Historical Festival in Skibbereen, as well as conferences in Galway and Maynooth.

Particular highlights for me included the Vótáil 100 events organised by the Seanad, which brought schoolchildren from across the 32 counties to debate the legacy of suffrage and gender equality in Ireland.

Of course, it was not just women in Ireland and Britain who won the vote in 1918.

Events have also taken place to mark the 100th anniversary of female enfranchisement in Poland, and I attended an event at Trinity College Dublin to discuss the links and similarities between suffrage campaigns in Poland and Ireland.

In both countries, the struggle for women’s rights took place against a backdrop of wider campaigns for national sovereignty.

The events throughout this year have also provided an opportunity to celebrate the work of leading women historians whose meticulous research helped to recover the stories of Irish suffragists.

Pioneering historians such as Rosemary Cullen Owens, Margaret Ward, Cliona Murphy, Maria Luddy, and Myrtle Hill did the initial groundwork. A new generation of researchers have since taken up this important work, including Linda Connolly, Caitriona Beaumont, and Mary Clancy.

I hope that this great work will continue to younger generations so that our knowledge of Irish feminist history will grow and develop through time.

This Saturday, the year of commemorations culminates with what promises to be a great conference in University College Cork organised by Gabriel Doherty.

This conference will be of particular significance for me because my work on the Irish suffrage movement began in UCC over 20 years ago.

Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in a Polling Booth circa 1910.

While a student in the sociology department, I had the good fortune to discover that the entire archive of the Irish Citizen newspaper, the only suffrage newspaper produced in Ireland, was stored in the basement of the Boole Library in UCC.

This began my lifelong fascination with that amazing little newspaper. My doctoral research and later my book (Winning the Vote for Women) were based on the Irish Citizen.

While it is important to celebrate the success of this anniversary year, we should avoid complacency. Today in 2018, only 22% of TDs are women.

In the UK, 32% of MPs are women, whereas in the US, women make up just 20% of the Congress.

However, while Sweden, Finland, and Norway have made bigger strides, the countries with the largest proportion of women elected representatives are Rwanda, Cuba, Bolivia, and Mexico — all with over 50% female members of parliament.

Clearly, we still have a long way to go in Ireland but hopefully we can build on the suffragists’ legacy as we work towards gender equality.

Louise Ryan is professor of sociology at the University of Sheffield, and author of Winning the Vote for Women: the Irish Citizen newspaper and the suffrage movement in Ireland (Four Courts Press, 2018)

The UCC conference — A woman shall not be disqualified: Ireland and the cause of female suffrage — takes place next Saturday. The conference, which is free and open to all members of the public who wish to attend without any need to register in advance, will take place in the Boole II Lecture Theatre, and starts at 9.20am. For further information please call 021 4902783 or email

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