Visit the home of Bri­tish democ­racy and dis­cover how, one hun­dred years ago, women fi­nally won the right to be­come mem­bers of this his­toric in­sti­tu­tion.

Visit the home of Bri­tish democ­racy this year and dis­cover how, one hun­dred years ago, women fi­nally won the right to be­come mem­bers of this his­toric in­sti­tu­tion.

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36.

THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT cel­e­brate an his­toric an­niver­sary this spring as one hun­dred years ago, on 6 Fe­bru­ary 1918, the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Peo­ple Act was passed. De­spite its de­cid­edly un­ex­cit­ing ti­tle, this act of parliament marked a hugely im­por­tant mo­ment in Bri­tain's his­tory as it gave women the vote for the first time. The act wasn't a com­plete vic­tory for women cam­paign­ers as it was only fe­male prop­erty own­ers or grad­u­ates over the age of 30 who were al­lowed to vote (younger women be­ing con­sid­ered too flighty) but it was a mas­sive step in the right di­rec­tion. It was fol­lowed in Novem­ber with an act al­low­ing women to stand for elec­tion as an MP and then fi­nally in 1928 with the Equal Fran­chise Act which gave all women over 21 the vote. This right had been given to men in 1918 and meant that women and men fi­nally had equal vot­ing rights. It marked an end to the bit­ter and of­ten vi­o­lent cam­paign for women's votes that had of­fi­cially started in 1866 when a pe­ti­tion ask­ing for votes for women had been pre­sented to parliament – and had been promptly turned down. An ex­hi­bi­tion at West­min­ster Hall ex­plores the his­tory of the re­sult­ing cam­paign for votes for women and women's role in parliament to­day. Called Voice and Vote: Women’s Place in Parliament, it's part of Vote 100, a year-long cel­e­bra­tion of the pass­ing of this ma­jor demo­cratic mile­stone. The ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plores women's ex­pe­ri­ence of parliament from the 18th cen­tury – when they could only watch Com­mons de­bates by dint of stand­ing in a ven­ti­la­tor shaft – to the present day when there are over 200 women MPS, presided over (for the mo­ment) by a fe­male prime min­ster. The cu­ra­tors have re-cre­ated four spa­ces rep­re­sent­ing this jour­ney. The first is the Ven­ti­la­tor shaft which was burnt down in the West­min­ster fire of 1834. The new Houses of Parliament in­cluded a Ladies Gallery for fe­male spec­ta­tors and the ex­hi­bi­tion re-cre­ates this space, known as the Cage, show­ing how, in spite of its el­e­gant ti­tle, this was a small pokey space, high up above the Cham­ber, cov­ered with heavy metal grilles (which were de­signed to pre­vent the women dis­tract­ing the men be­low by their de­vi­ous fem­i­nine wiles). Two other re-cre­ated spa­ces are the Tomb and the Cham­ber. The Tomb was

the nick­name for the of­fice given in 1919 to Nancy As­tor, the first fe­male MP to take her seat in parliament. It was small and poorly fur­nished and re­mained the Lady Mem­bers' room un­til as late as the 1970s – by which time it had be­come ex­tremely crowded with women such as Mar­garet Thatcher and Shirley Wil­liams hav­ing to share the only coat hook. The ex­hi­bi­tion fin­ishes with the Cham­ber, where the work of women in parliament to­day is high­lighted. ‘The idea is to en­gage the vis­i­tors with the his­tory of women and parliament and how it still ap­plies to­day' says ex­hi­bi­tion co-cu­ra­tor Mari Takayanagi. Out­side parliament, the cen­te­nary of women gain­ing the vote will be marked by a statue of the fa­mous women's rights cam­paigner, Mil­li­cent Fawcett. De­signed by the artist Gil­lian Wear­ing, this will be the first ever statue of a woman to go up on Parliament Square – and in­ci­den­tally the first statue de­signed by a fe­male artist. Fawcett will be de­picted hold­ing a ban­ner read­ing ‘Courage Calls to Courage Every­where'. Com­bine a visit to the ex­hi­bi­tion with a tour of the Houses of Parliament. These start at the Queen's Rob­ing Room, and then pass through the Royal Gallery and into the splen­did Lords' Cham­ber. You then get to visit the var­i­ous lob­bies, scene of much Vic­to­rian Gothic mag­nif­i­cence and mod­ern-day pol­i­tick­ing. Look out here for the im­pos­ing statue of Win­ston Churchill glar­ing down at the passers-by. It's op­po­site that of David Lloyd Ge­orge, Bri­tain's other wartime prime min­is­ter, and the feet of both stat­ues have been pol­ished ished bright by MPS who touch them for good luck when hen en­ter­ing the House of Com­mons. Be­fore you fol­low ol­low their foot­steps into the Cham­ber, take time e to look at the door which has been dam­aged by gen­er­a­tions of ‘Black Rod'. This of­fi­cial l has to knock on the door of the Com­mons three hree times with a cer­e­mo­nial staff to sum­mon mon the MPS to lis­ten to the Queen's Speech ch dur­ing the State Open­ing of Parliament nt – the speech is de­liv­ered in the House of Lords ords as the Queen is tra­di­tion­ally not al­lowed into the Com­mons. Once in the Com­mons Cham­ber you can ad­mire the fa­mous green leather benches, ches, the dis­patch boxes and the Speaker's Chair. The benches are lined up along each side of the room so Op­po­si­tion and Gov­ern­ment MPS are di­rectly fac­ing one an­other. They are sep­a­rated ed by a dis­tance of 3.96 me­tres - the same length as two wo swords - a de­sign re­put­edly in­tended to pre­vent MPS du­elling, although it doesn't seem to have stopped ped them ar­gu­ing. The tour ends up in West­min­ster Hall. all. This huge space is the only re­main­ing g part of the me­dieval Palace of West­min­ster and nd was built in 1097 by Wil­liam Ru­fus, son of Wil­liam the Con­queror. It's fa­mous for its spec­tac­u­lar ctac­u­lar ham­mer-beam roof, the largest me­dieval eval tim­ber roof in North­ern Europe. To­day it is used sed for cer­e­mo­nial events, such as the ly­ing-in-state n-state of the late Queen Mother, and for pub­lic c exhibitions such as Voice and Vote. You can fin­ish h the tour with af­ter­noon tea in one of parliament's sev­eral ev­eral restau­rants over­look­ing the River Thames, a wel­come break af­ter a walk through nearly 1000 years of his­tory.

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