Pioneers celebrated on International Women’s Day

Women who successfully campaigned for the right to vote have been recognised in a definitive list of 100 pioneers released today.


The full list, published today on International Women’s Day and to commemorate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, is the result of a year-long project by the Women’s Local Government Society and supported by the LGA.

Suffragists and other campaigners from all walks of life and parts of the country, many of whom went on to become some of the first elected female councillors, magistrates and mayors, have been recognised for their efforts and achievements.

Among the names released today are Mary Maclagen, who was a member of the Women’s Social and Political Union and became the first female representative of Rotherham council in 1924. Muriel Matters was born into a working class family in Australia, before moving to London and becoming actively involved in the Women's Freedom League, also standing as a parliamentary candidate. In October 1908 she made the first ‘speech’ in the House of Commons by chaining herself to the Ladies Gallery grille and the recently-refurbished council offices in her former home of Hastings has been named after her. Edith Bessie New was a suffragette from Swindon who campaigned for equal pay for teachers and travelled the country organising support for parliamentary candidates sympathetic to the suffrage cause, as well as being a marshal and speaker at the famous Hyde Park rally in June 1908.

Juanita Maxwell-Phillips become the first woman borough councillor in Honiton, the first female mayor and first woman County Councillor in Devon, remaining an active part of the suffrage movement while also helping to secure greater opportunities for women, including better housing, healthcare and support for those in poverty. Eleanor Higginson from Preston went on hunger strike in Holloway prison after being arrested in London in 1914, following the King’s refusal to see the delegation from the WSPU, later becoming a magistrate and Preston town councillor from 1940-45. Agnes Dawson, a teacher and trade unionist from Peckham, was elected to London County Council in 1925 and successfully helped end the ban on married women having to give up teaching. Winifred Coombe Tenant was a leading figure for women’s suffrage in South Wales, who stood as a parliamentary candidate and was nominated by David Lloyd George to become the first British woman representative at the League of Nations.

Local government first led the way with women being allowed to vote in local elections and be elected to councils long before they could vote in parliamentary elections, with more than one million single women registered to vote in local elections in England by 1900.

Cllr Marianne Overton, LGA Vice Chairman and Vice Chair of the WLGS, said:

“The full publication of this list of 100 pioneers today on International Women’s Day rightly highlights the courageous campaigning and efforts by those who came before us.

“Their bravery and determination in helping women win the right to vote and make it possible to play a full part in our democracy serves as an inspiration to us all. This acts as a timely reminder of not only what has been achieved, but also what more needs to be done.

“Town halls need to fully reflect the people they represent, including the skills and experience women hold, if we are to make the best decisions for our communities. Councils continue to be at the forefront of driving change to address the gender imbalance, through initiatives such as offering shared parental leave, childcare support and flexible working. Independent politicians and political parties, of all persuasions, also need to play their part by encouraging and supporting the next generation of aspiring councillors.

“Our female leaders of tomorrow need only look at the names on this list to be inspired to stand for office and make a real and lasting positive impact in their communities.”

WLGS Chair Cllr Lesley Clarke said: “We know the 100 local pioneers identified here today represent so many more activists in this period. Many women who successfully fought for the vote were already actively involved in improving their local communities and continued to do so after 1918. They were suffragists, suffragettes, and so much more.

“This list adds to and complements the many ways in which communities and local authorities are marking this centenary, through exhibitions, parades, talks, plaques and many other commemorative events taking place throughout the year.”


From Suffrage Campaigns to Citizenship – identifying 100 suffrage pioneers

The Women's Local Government Society is a cross-party and independent organisation which campaigned to enable women to stand as local councillors. Its "From Suffrage Campaigns to Citizenship" project with partners including the LGA and Buckinghamshire County Council, identifies and celebrate the lives of 100 women who were active in the campaign for votes for women, and who went on to use the extended rights to citizenship in a positive way locally.

LGA's Be a Councillor campaign

The LGA’s Be a Councillor campaign works with councils, political parties, individuals and talent-spotters to encourage more people to stand as a local councillor, including women and other under-represented groups. A new Be a Councillor Women’s Network is being created to bring together existing female councillors and prospective councillors to consider barriers to women entering (and staying in) politics, provide support to women considering standing, and share activity, resources, ideas and inspiration.