An exhibition to mark the centenary of the 1918 Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act.
The legislation which gave women the right to stand for election to the House of Commons was passed on 21 November 1918, nine months after 8.5 million women over 30, and all men, had been given the right to vote. A century later, women have been involved in parliamentary politics at almost every level and have held some of the highest offices of state, with Britain’s first female Prime Minister becoming its most significant leader since Churchill. But the path towards gender equality in parliament has been long and arduous. At Westminster, where for centuries rules and rituals have been made by and for élite men, female MPs have faced daily challenges unimaginable to their male counterparts — not least of which is the assumption that their politics should be defined by their status as ‘women’.
Uphill All the Way features highlights from the Churchill Archives Centre’s three collections belonging to pioneering female parliamentarians — Mary Agnes Hamilton, Florence Horsbrugh and Margaret Thatcher — and delves into the personal papers of some of their contemporaries to uncover the whole range of women’s experiences at Westminster.
Drawing on women MPs’ personal correspondence with politicians and constituents, speech notes and interviews, contemporary press coverage and photographs, and election campaign materials, this exhibition explores the changes women politicians brought to parliament, and the impact of the national political stage on the parts women had to play in public and professional life over the course of the twentieth century. Alongside the rise of Margaret Thatcher, it looks at the legislative battles successive generations of women MPs fought in the Commons, most notably over the issue of equal pay, and their efforts to raise the profile and representation of women and equalities issues in government. Documenting parliamentary rebellions as well as achievements in high office, women’s political archives illuminate a century of struggles for gender equality in British political and cultural life.
The display is open to all in the Churchill Archives Centre’s permanent exhibition gallery, Founder and Foundation, in the Wolfson Hall at Churchill College, from 21 November 2018–18 January 2019.
— Heidi Egginton, Archives Assistant
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