British suffrage poster, 1909

On November 26, 1912, suffragists in Oregon were still celebrating women’s right to vote. Abigail Scott Duniway was drafting the proclamation suffrage proclamation that Governor Oswald West would officially sign on November 30. But November 26 was a disappointment to the women of Bow and Bromley.

Both Bow and Bromley were relatively small voting districts in London, England. Combined they elected one member to the British House of Commons (roughly equivalent to a Congressman—there were no Congresswomen back then–to the U.S. House of Representatives).

The men of Bow and Bromley voted on November 26 in a by-election—what in the States is called a special election—to fill a vacancy. The contest was between George Landsbury, a Labour Party politician who strongly favored woman suffrage, and Reginald Blair, a Conservative Party politician supported the National League for Opposing Woman Suffrage. The Labour Party did not officially back Landsbury, but neither did the party offer another candidate.

Landsbury favored the militant (sometimes criminal) activity of the suffragists in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), and got support from the less militant National Union of Women’s Suffage Societies. He had won an election from Bow and Bromley in 1910 and engineered the 1912 vacancy—forcing the election—to test the strength of the suffrage movement.

Portrait-Badge of Emmeline Pankhurst, 1909

In the summer of 1912, Landsbury had condemned the government’s policy of force-feeding jailed WSPU members who went on a hunger strike. “You will go down in history as the man who tortured innocent women,” he told the Prime Minister. That fall, Landsbury went to France with WSPU founder Emmeline Pankhurst to visit her daughter Christabel, who directed WSPU activities safe from arrest by the British police.

The men of Bow and Bromley came out in favor of Reginald Blair 4,042 to 3,291.Landsbury wouldn’t regain his seat in the House of Commons for another ten years. By then some women over age 30 with property could vote. In 1928, the Representation of the People Act gave women over age 21 the right to vote.

 

 

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