How women came to be MPs: Herbert Samuel

In a previous post I talked about how women couldn’t sit in the House of Lords until 1958. By contrast, women could be elected to the House of Commons from 1918, right after (some) women were given the vote.

The Act that enabled women to stand as MPs is not perhaps well-known. It’s the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, and research into Parliamentary Debates shows we have this man to thank for it:

Herbert Samuel image from Wikipedia

This is Herbert Samuel. He was previously a Liberal government minister under Asquith and Lloyd George, and later became Viscount Samuel and High Commissioner for Palestine. Back in 1918, he was a backbench MP who realised something had to be done about women candidates in the forthcoming General Election. He put forward a resolution in the Commons:

‘That in the opinion of this House, it is desirable that a Bill be passed forthwith making women eligible as Members of Parliament.’

Like many other Liberal MPs, Samuel had opposed women’s suffrage before the First World War. In his Memoirs, published in 1945, he wrote about how he regretted this, and went on, ‘Perhaps it was a feeling that I ought to make some amends that led me to take the initiative in Parliament in promoting legislation to make women eligible to the House of Commons.’

Samuel election flyer, Parliamentary Archives
Parliamentary Archives, SAM/A/31

As you can see from this election flyer, Samuel was married. I find it interesting that she looms as large as he does; clearly he saw his wife (Beatrice, a constitutional suffragist) as an electoral asset even back in 1909.

Samuel’s resolution was passed, but there were MPs willing to oppose it.

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