Vote 100

Vote 100: UK Parliament celebrates a century of women’s voices

Main Image: The Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave all men over 21 and women over 30 who met a property qualification the right to vote

Prime Minister Theresa May will officially launch the UK Parliament’s Vote 100 programme at a reception in Westminster Hall today with all female MPs past and present being invited. The UK Parliament’s Vote 100 project is a year-long programme of events celebrating a century of women’s voices in Parliament, the journey towards universal suffrage and the first women MPs

Immersive and interactive technologies will be used to tell the story of women and parliament. Lost historic spaces which were used to segregate women from the business of Parliament will be recreated and the story of those crucial campaigners and trailblazers retold

Throughout 2018, Vote 100 will celebrate milestones in women’s suffrage and the contribution of women to politics in the UK, with a series of events, exhibitions and educational programmes including its main exhibition Voice & Vote.

The Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament exhibition will be staged in Westminster Hall and featuring a range of interactive features, the exhibition will cover the campaign for votes for women to the representation of women in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Throughout the exhibition, rare and previously unseen historic objects, pictures and archives from the Parliamentary collections and elsewhere will be on show. Together with immersive and interactive technologies, the exhibition will tell the story of women in Parliament, the campaigning, the protests and the achievements. It will also examine where we are today and how you can make change happen.

The exhibition will show how when women could stand for Parliament from 1918 among the spaces provided for them was an office called the Lady Members’ Room, which was poorly furnished and became increasingly overcrowded as more women were elected as MPs. They had to share the space, which became known as “The Tomb” despite their differing politics. Once the few desks provided were all taken, women MPs had to sit on the floor to do their paperwork and hold meetings in corridors.

The exhibition will also provide visitors with immersive spaces, recreating lost historical places within the Palace of Westminster where women, who were banned from the public galleries before 1918, would watch proceedings from areas such as The Ventilator, where 200 years ago a loft space above the House of Commons Chamber was where women watched and listened to Parliamentary debates. And The Cage, which was a place, after the 1834 fire which destroyed the old Palace of Westminster, in the new House of Commons that was a kind of Ladies’ Gallery which allowed women to view the Chamber from high up above the Speaker’s Chair. The gallery was closed off by brass grilles, deliberately placed there to stop MPs seeing the women. The grilles restricted women’s view and the Ladies’ Gallery was hot, stuffy and so nicknamed “The Cage”.

The final part of the exhibition will be the Chamber, exploring the experience and work of women MPs and members of the House of Lords today. Women have now occupied the highest positions in Parliament, including Betty Boothroyd, the first, and only (so far) woman Speaker and Baroness Hayman, the first Lord Speaker in the House of Lords.

The exhibition will feature a series of significant items on loan from around the UK, brought together for the first time ever. One of the loans reveals the story of Alice Hawkins, a WSPU suffragette from Leicester who was jailed five times for campaigning for women’s rights.  The loan from Hawkins’s family to the Voice and Vote exhibition includes her original Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) sash, a ‘Holloway’ portcullis brooch and her hunger strike medal, awarded by the WSPU for “a gallant action”.  It is the first time these items have been put on public display.  Buried in a pauper’s grave, Hawkins’s actions are now being recognised as a statue of her is unveiled in her home town of Leicester.

“This exciting exhibition should really give the public a sense of the barriers that women had to overcome to participate in democracy,” said Melanie Unwin, Co-curator of the Voice and Vote exhibition.

Free tickets for the exhibition will be available online from today, Tuesday 6 February.

Voice & Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament will be held in Westminster Hall from 27 June to 6 October 2018.