The Vote Before The Vote – Central Library Leeds 3 – 30 May

An Exhibition about the Leeds Victorian Women who paved the way for the Suffragettes.

Across the country communities are marking the centenary of the Representation of the People Act which first gave the Parliamentary vote to some women, and the City of Leeds is no exception.   The Central Library will host a major exhibition dedicated to the Victorian Leeds women who laid the foundations for what happened at the start of the 20th century.

In 1832 the first petition was put before parliament by Mary Smith, who may well have lived in Far Headingley.  The petition was laughed out of the House of Commons.  For the period from then until 1903, The Vote Before The Vote exhibition deservedly restores names largely forgotton, names like Mrs Catherine Buckton, Isabella Ford, Alice Cliff Scatcherd, Constance Holland and Mary Gawthorpe.  The story of their struggles, their defeats and their successes is revealed and explained throughout the exhibition.

There are some significant successes to celebrate:  Mrs Buckton became the first woman elected to public office in Leeds in 1873, while others helped women organise, both in unions and politically. Some, like Mary Gawthorpe, straddled the Victorian and Edwardian campaigns.

The law changed in 1894, so all ratepayers were able to vote in some local elections, and women could run to be Parish Councillors and Poor Law Guardians. For the very first time in English politics, the working class – especially working-class women – had a political voice. Thanks to the work of the Suffragists, they were able to use it.

Curated by Leeds suffrage historian Vine Pemberton Joss, The Vote Before The Vote is a groundbreaking exhibition that shines the light on an area of local history that has long been neglected. People should know about these pioneering women who believed in gender equality and worked to achieve it at a time when the thought of women having any rights was widely ridiculed. What they achieved was remarkable, and without them, the Suffragettes would have had a much harder battle.

The exhibition will also feature workshops, including one for children on what life was like in the Victorian workhouse.

Leeds Living thinks this is one very much worth visiting.

Adam combines his interest in Leeds with a flair for writing discovered back in school days. He says he’ll tackle any topic as long as it’s Leeds.

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