The pi­o­neer­ing women who first stood for Par­lia­ment in the Black Coun­try

Black Country Bugle - - NEWS - By DAN SHAW

ONE hun­dred years ago, this De­cem­ber, the Black Coun­try and Birm­ing­ham were at the heart of cam­paigns to get the first women elected to Par­lia­ment.

Women chain­mak­ers’ strike leader Mary Macarthur, suf­fragette Christa­bel Pankhurst, and Margery Cor­bett Ashby, later to form the Townswomen Guild, all put their names down as par­lia­men­tary can­di­dates in the re­gion.

The gen­eral elec­tion of De­cem­ber 14, 1918, saw most women over 30 vot­ing for the first time. It also gave all women over 21 the right to stand for Par­lia­ment.

Over seven hun­dred seats in the House of Com­mons were up for elec­tion, but just 17 women stood, and three of those were in ad­join­ing con­stituen­cies of the Black Coun­try and Birm­ing­ham.

Lo­cal his­to­rian David Hal­lam has writ­ten a book com­mem­o­rat­ing the ground break­ing elec­tion called Tak­ing on the Men – the First Women Par­lia­men­tary Can­di­dates 1918.

David, who lives in Bear­wood, is a for­mer Sandwell Coun­cil­lor and Mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. He re­searched the book as part of a Mas­ter of Arts course at the Uni­ver­sity of Birm­ing­ham.

“The 1918 Gen­eral Elec­tion was like no other”, said David, “it was called within weeks of the Ar­mistice. Polling took place on Satur­day, De­cem­ber 14, and the count a fort­night later to en­able ser­vice­men to cast their votes by post.

“The most suc­cess­ful can­di­date was Christa­bel Pankhurst for the Women’s Party in Smeth­wick. Her mother Em­me­line worked hard to en­sure that she had the sup­port of the Lon­don news­pa­pers and the Prime Min­is­ter David Lloyd Ge­orge. How­ever, she was up against a well­known trades union of­fi­cial, John Davison, who won with a ma­jor­ity of 775, a mar­gin of just 4.4%.”

You can read more about Christa­bel Pankhurst’s elec­tion bat­tle in Smeth­wick in the 2019 Bu­gle An­nual, on sale now.

David Hal­lam con­tin­ued, “Mary Macarthur took on Stour­bridge for the Labour Party. The con­stituency stretched from Stour­bridge across to in­clude Hale­sowen, Old­bury and War­ley Woods, where it bor­dered Smeth­wick.

Maiden name

“The re­turn­ing of­fi­cer in­sisted that Mary could not use her maiden name, Macarthur, by which she was known, but had to be de­scribed on the bal­lot pa­per as ‘Mrs An­der­son’. This is be­lieved to have con­trib­uted to her de­feat,” says David Hal­lam.

“Margery Cor­bett Ashby was very brave to fight Lady­wood as a Lib­eral and take on the fu­ture Prime Min­is­ter, Neville Cham­ber­lain, who was, of course, backed by the for­mi­da­ble Cham­ber­lain po­lit­i­cal ma­chine. She was very un­for­tu­nate to be squeezed be­tween Labour and the Con­ser­va­tives and Union­ists”.

Tak­ing on the Men in­cludes a sec­tion on each of the 17 women can­di­dates with full re­sults and a short bi­og­ra­phy. The only woman of the 17 to win a seat was Con­stance Markievicz, who claimed Dublin St Pa­trick’s for Sinn Fein but, in line with the party’s pol­icy, did not take her seat in the House of Com­mons.

The 1918 man­i­festos of Christa­bel Pankhurst, Mary Macarthur and Margery Cor­bett Ashby are re­pro­duced in full, the first time they have been pub­lished to­gether.

Tak­ing on the Men – the First Women Par­lia­men­tary Can­di­dates 1918 by David Hal­lam is pub­lished by Brewin Books, price £9.95.

Suf­fragettes Flora Drum­mond and Phyl­lis Ayr­ton cam­paign­ing on be­half of Christa­bel Pankhurst in Smeth­wick for the 1918 Gen­eral Elec­tion

David Hal­lam’s new book

Mary Macarthur

Christa­bel Pankhurst

Margery Cor­bett Ashby

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