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Spotlight on rights for Women

Read our latest feature on Lady Nancy Astor the first woman to take a seat in the House of Commons in 1919.

Scroll your way through a timeline of all the key dates about the suffragettes and progression of women to get the vote and positions in government and British society. Ideal for History Key Stage 3 and 4.



Elizabeth Garrett Anderson obtains a licence from the Society of Apothecaries enabling her to practise medicine and become the first female British doctor.


Municipal Franchise Act 1869

Women rate payers are able to vote in local elections. In 1872 this is restricted to unmarried women and widows.


Married Women’s Property Act 1870

Any money that a married woman earned was to be treated as her own and not her husband’s.


Emma Paterson and Edith Simcox are the first women to attend the Trades Union Congress (TUC) as delegates.


Medical (Qualification) Act 1876

All qualified persons, including women were permitted to enter the medical professions.


Married Women’s Property Act 1882

Married women now had the same property rights as unmarried women and could hold or dispose of their own property as they wished. Previously all property owned by the woman would have become the property of the husband upon marriage.


The Contagious Diseases Acts are repealed.


Married Women’s Property Act 1893

A married woman retained legal control of any property she acquired during marriage. Married women now had equal status with unmarried women.



Midwives Act 1902

This Act set up the Central Midwives Board. All midwives practising in England and Wales had to be properly qualified and certified under this Act.


Qualification of Women Act 1907

Women could be elected on to borough and county councils, subject to a property qualification. Women could also be elected as Mayors.


Elizabeth Garrett Anderson becomes the first woman to be elected as a Mayor, in Aldeburgh, Suffolk.


Eleanor Davies-Colley becomes the first woman Fellow of The Royal College of Surgeons.

Hilda Hewlett becomes the first British woman to qualify as a pilot.


Representation of the People Act 1918

Women are given the right to vote. They must be over 30 years old and they, or their husband, must meet a property qualification.

This entitles 8.5 million women to vote but it is only 40% of the total population of women in the UK.

The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918

Women are allowed to stand in elections to be Members of Parliament.

The first woman MP is elected in the General Election of 1918. Countess Constance Markievicz was a member of Sinn Fein and won a seat in Dublin. She did not take her seat in the House of Commons.


Nancy Astor wins a by-election in December 1919. She becomes the first woman to sit in the House of Commons as a Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton. She held the seat until 1945.

Find out more about Lady Nancy Astor.

Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919

A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function… holding any civil or judicial office… or carrying on any civil profession or vocation, or for admission to any incorporated society (whether incorporated by Royal Charter or otherwise), . . .”

Women could now legally enter and practise professions they were previously barred from. This included becoming veterinary surgeons, accountants, solicitors and judges. They were also allowed to become jurors.


Ivy Williams is the first woman to be called to the English Bar in May 1922.

Helena Normanton is the second woman called to the English Bar in November 1922, but the first to practise as a barrister.

Carrie Morrison becomes the first female solicitor.

Irene Barclay qualifies as the first woman Chartered Surveyor.


Margaret Kidd is the first woman to become a member of the Faculty of Advocates (Scottish Bar)

Matrimonial Causes Act 1923

Adultery becomes the sole ground for divorce for both husband and wife. Previously the wife had to prove her husband’s adultery and additional faults.


Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928

This Act gives women equal voting rights with men. It entitles all women who are aged over 21years to vote in elections. Fifteen million women are now eligible to vote.


Margaret Bondfield becomes the first woman cabinet minister, when she is made Minister of Labour.


Education Act 1944

This Act removed the marriage bar in teaching. No woman was to be disqualified or dismissed as a teacher for being married.


The Home Civil Service removes the bar on married women employees. The Foreign Office does not remove the marriage bar until 1972.



Life Peerages Act 1958

This Act enabled the creation of life peerages and gave them the right to sit in the House of Lords. The Act also stated that a “… life peerage may be conferred… on a woman”. Four women were created life peers and took their seats in the House of Lords in 1958: Baroness Elliot of Harwood (Dame Katherine Elliot), Baroness Ravensdale of Kedleston (Mary Irene Curzon), Baroness Swanborough (Dame Stella Isaacs) and Baroness Wootton of Abinger (Barbara Frances Wootton Wright).


Peerage Act 1963

Hereditary women peers were now allowed to sit in the House of Lords.

“A woman who is the holder of a hereditary peerage…shall…have the same right…to attend the House of Lords, and to sit and vote in that House…as a man holding that peerage”.


Dame Elizabeth Lane becomes the first female High Court judge.


The voting age is lowered for both men and women to eighteen years old. It comes into force in 1970.


Equal Pay Act 1970

This Act prevented discrimination in terms and conditions of employment for men and women. Disputes could be settled by industrial tribunal.


Rose Heilbron becomes the first woman to sit as a judge at the Old Bailey.

The Foreign Office removes the bar on married women.


For the first time women are allowed on the floor of the London Stock Exchange.


Sex Discrimination Act 1975

This Act made it unlawful to discriminate against women and men on the grounds of sex or marriage. This included discrimination in employment and education. It also established the Equal

Opportunities Commission to work towards “…the elimination of such discrimination and promoting equality of opportunity between men and women generally…”

Employment Protection Act 1975

This Act made it unlawful to sack a woman on the grounds of pregnancy. Statutory maternity pay is also introduced.


Mary-Joy Langdon becomes Britain’s first female fire-fighter when she joins the East Sussex fire brigade.


Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female Prime Minister when the Conservative Party wins the General Election.


Baroness Janet Young becomes the first woman Leader of the House of Lords.


Independent Taxation is introduced. A married woman’s income is to be taxed separately from that of her husband.


Betty Boothroyd becomes the first female Speaker of the House of Commons.



Clara Furse becomes the first female chief executive of the London Stock Exchange.


A major overhaul of adoption legislation allows unmarried and same-sex couples to adopt children.


Margaret Beckett of the Labour Party becomes the first female Foreign Secretary.


Jacqui Smith of the Labour Party becomes the first female Home Secretary.

Michelle Norris, 19, becomes the first woman to be awarded the Military Cross for braving machine gun fire from 200 insurgents in Southern Iraq to save a wounded colleague.


Carol Ann Duffy becomes the first female Poet Laureate.


Equality Act 2010

The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of ‘protected characteristics’, which include sex, marriage, pregnancy and having children. It also increases the situations in which discrimination is unlawful to areas such as buying property and using public services.


Theresa May MP becomes only the second female British Prime Minister.


Cressida Dick becomes the first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service.

Further Reading