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06.02.18

Women’s rights campaigners commemorated by councils

Women who successfully campaigned for the right to vote and changed the public and political landscape have been commemorated in a list of more than 100 pioneers.

On the centenary of certain women winning the right to vote, the first 45 names to be commemorated have been revealed, with the remainder to be announced on International Women’s Day on 8 March.

The Women’s Local Government Society (WLGS) and the LGA have worked together to create the list, celebrating the lives of many suffragettes and campaigners who used their extra rights in a positive way.

Amongst those credited with having made a lasting impact in their areas are the first female councillors, magistrates and mayors.

Lincolnshire’s Margaret Wintringham was the first British woman to have a seat in the House of Commons, and continued to campaign to expand the right to vote to all women, which at that point was restricted to women over 30 or those who met certain property requirements.

Catharine Alderton was the first Lady mayor of Colchester and first female member of Essex County Council, and led a “pilgrimage” of suffrage supporters from across eastern England to a rally in Hyde Park.

Phoebe Cusden was a councillor for Reading, campaigner for nursery schooling and, when she was moved to help the children of Dusseldorf affected by Second World War bombing, leader of the development of town twinning.

Jessie Stephen was the first female president of the Trades Council and a councillor for Bermondsey, and later Bristol.

Cllr Marianne Overton, LGA vice chair and vice chair of the WLGS, said: “These female pioneers are rightly being recognised for their courageous campaigning and determination to achieve what was a historic milestone on the path towards gender equality and democracy for all.

“However, there is still much more to be done to improve women’s participation in public life, including local government and especially in leadership roles. Our town halls need to fully reflect the people they represent. We cannot afford to miss out on the skills and experience which women hold if we are to make the best decisions for our communities.”

Referring to the gender pay gap, she said: “Councils will continue to be at the forefront of driving change to address this imbalance, through initiatives such as offering shared parental leave, childcare support and flexible working.

“We also need political parties, of all persuasions, to play their part by encouraging and supporting the next generation of aspiring councillors.”

WLGS chair, Cllr Lesley Clarke, explained: “We know the hundred or so local pioneers we have identified so far represent so many more activists in this period.

“Women who fought for the vote didn’t just fade away in 1918. Many were already actively involved in improving their local communities alongside their work to win the vote. They had more opportunities to do so after 1918, and more to do.

“They were suffragists, suffragettes, and so much more.”

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