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Last updated:03 December 2018

Object of the Month

Every month someone from the Library chooses an interesting object, book or document from the Library collection, which is displayed in the hall of the Library.

December 2018 - Woman: a citizen

Woman: a Citizen coverThis month we mark the centenary of the first UK general election in which women voted.  The election was called immediately after the Armistice which ended the First World War, and was held on Saturday 14 December 1918. 

Constance Markievicz, née Constance Gore-Booth, was the first woman to be elected to Parliament, but as a Sinn Fein member refused to take her seat.

Woman: a citizen is a handbook published in 1918 for newly emancipated women, setting out the workings of parliament and the constitution.  Beatrice Webb’s preface however reminds the reader: “Women are still far from having won their freedom. They are still subjected to various legal disabilities merely by reason of their sex.  Even the Parliamentary vote is not yet won for women under 30, or for women who live in furnished apartments. No woman may yet be elected to the House of Commons”.

Woman: a citizen was written by Agnes Metcalfe (1870-1923), who a year earlier had produced a contemporary study of the militant suffrage movement, Woman's effort: a chronicle of British women's fifty years' struggle for citizenship (1865-1914).

Agnes, a former head teacher and then School Board Inspector (HMI), was at one stage Treasurer of the Women's Tax Resistance League.  Working on the basis of ‘no taxation without representation’, women and their supporters refused to pay various taxes and the resultant publicity highlighted the injustice of the situation.  Agnes was herself taken to court at Greenwich, as described in The Vote on 19 December 1913:

“Miss A[gnes Edith] Metcalfe, B.Sc., ex-H.M.I., was summoned at Greenwich Police-court on Tuesday, December 9, for non-payment of [a] dog license. In a short speech she said that she refused on conscientious grounds to pay taxes while women had no vote. The magistrate congratulated Miss Metcalfe on the clearness and eloquence with which she made out her case. He regretted that the law must take its course, and imposed a fine of 7s. with 2s. costs, recoverable by distraint. The alternative was one day’s imprisonment.”