Old enough to be an MP, but too young to vote

When the Act allowing women to become MPs was passed, perhaps its most curious aspect was that there was no restriction on age.  Women had to be aged at least 30 to vote at this time, but they could stand to be MPs from age 21! There were a number of young women Parliamentary candidates over the next ten years, including Megan Lloyd George who was selected as Liberal candidate for Anglesey on 24 May 1928, before the passage of the Equal Franchise Act, when she was 26 years old.

Megan Lloyd George image from Liberal Democrat History Group
Megan Lloyd George image from Liberal Democrat History Group

There was the anomaly of a woman actually elected as an MP despite not being able to vote for herself.  Jennie Lee was just 23 when selected as Labour candidate for North Lanark and 24 when elected in a by-election on 21 March 1929 (before women were allowed to vote at age 21 in the general election later that year). Lee remarked in her autobiography, ‘The Tories could not attack me on account of my youth for all the  political parties were angling for the flapper vote.’

Jennie Lee image from the Parliamentary Archives
Photograph of Jennie Lee. Parliamentary Archives, PUD/F/1281

Another candidate too young to vote for herself was Margaret Henderson Kidd, who stood unsuccessfully as Unionist candidate in a by-election in Linlithgow on 4 April 1928 at the age of 28. Kidd was already familiar with the Houses of Parliament; her father was an MP and as one of the earliest professional women lawyers,  an Advocate of the Scottish bar, she was the first woman to appear before a Parliamentary Committee in 1927. This provoked a crisis as there were no robing facilities for women counsels in the Houses of Parliament. When she appeared before the House of Lords, the Solicitor General for Scotland allowed her to use his room in the Old Crown Office, and when she appeared before the House of Commons, her father arranged for her to use the room of the Duchess of Atholl.

The Equal Franchise Act 1928 took away the age limit on voting, and women first voted from age 21 in the general election on 30 May 1929.

EDIT MARCH 2015: I now know of another woman to stand for Parliament when too young to vote for herself – Ursula Williams, who stood for Consett, Durham, aged 27, as a Liberal candidate way back in the general election of 1923. Very many thanks to Graem Peters who got in touch through this blog to draw this to my attention.

It has solved a small mystery for me: in 1924 the Liberal MP Isaac Foot declared in the House of Commons:

It is possible for a woman who is only just over 21 years of age to stand as a candidate for Parliament. At the last Election such a lady did stand in one of the Northern counties, and I think it would be admitted by her opponent, if he were here to-day, that she was a most effective candidate.

I’ve always wondered who that might have been. I used to think it was most likely to have been a Mary Grant, who stood for the Liberals in Pontefract in 1923 (having found a possible Mary Grant born in Pontefract in the 1911 census, who would have been that young). But then I discovered that the Mary Grant who stood in the  election was actually a former suffragette, Mary Pollock Grant, a fascinating woman who was also a nurse and policewoman during the First World War, who would have been aged 47 in 1923. I now think Foot was referring to Ursula Williams.

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