Remembering Eleanor Rathbone MP, suffragette

Today marks 100 years since the first women in Great Britain were given the right to vote. 

Suffragette parade - Rathbone Greenbank Investments

The Representation of the People Act, which was given royal assent 100 years ago today, extended the right to vote to all men over 21 and women over 30 who met certain conditions. The Act came about because of campaigning over many years by suffragists, members of women's organisations in the late-19th and early-20th centuries that sought votes for women.

One such person was the leading social campaigner Eleanor Rathbone MP, the daughter of William Rathbone VI.

Born in 1872, Eleanor was a pioneering student at Somerville College, Oxford University, who went on to lead the movement for the enfranchisement of women and instigated welfare and social reforms aimed at alleviating family poverty. 

Eleanor’s political career, which ran alongside her other work, began with her appointment as parliamentary secretary of the Liverpool Women’s Suffrage Society in 1897, but took a new turn after she was elected, in 1909, as Independent Councillor for Granby Ward, the first woman ever appointed to Liverpool City Council.

For 26 years she campaigned across a range of social issues, from abolishing unsanitary slums, to reducing the hours of labour, raising wage rates and improving education.

As a feminist and suffragist, Eleanor was drawn to campaigning for equality for women, and her concern over their economic dependence upon men led to her formulating her plan for a regular payment to be paid to mothers. By spring 1918, she had launched her long-running family endowment campaign.

In 1919, she was elected second president of the National Union for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship, and during her 10-year tenure steered the organisation towards legislative campaigns which were the catalyst for reform, leading to improvements in women’s domestic rights, helping to improve their access to pensions, divorce, the guardianship of children, and separation and maintenance from abusive husbands. The battle for family endowment eventually succeeded with the passing of the Family Allowance Act in June 1945. This payment survives today as child benefit.

Eleanor went on to become an MP in 1929 and continued campaigning on a number of issues until her death in 1946. 

Read more about Eleanor's remarkable achievements on rathbones.com

Visit the Eleanor Rathbone Charitable Trust website