The Context

The search for equality

Votes for Women represents only one key symbol of wider issues relating to the rights of women; such as legal discrimination or social constraints leading to the subordination of women in society. The struggle for the women's vote is also part of the wider struggle for democracy and human rights. Men also had to fight for the right to vote and for equality between the classes. In Britian, for example, the right to vote was severely restricted before the Great Reform Act of 1832; even then the franchise remained narrow until further reforms in 1867 and 1884.

The extension of democratic rights to men and later to women came from significant causes of change originating in the late 18th century. The Englightment led to the articulation of powerful new ideals. The American Revolution and the French Revolution both accelerated demands for human equality. The Industrial Revolution accelerated profound changes in society and politics, above all the rise of influential middle class interests, the emergence of mass labour and demands for universal education. These forces pushed forward the demands for political and voting rights. It was in the 19th and early 20th century that the women's suffrage movement grew strong and became organised.


Click here for more information on political rights in the 19th century.