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Online course

Beyond the Ballot: Women’s Rights and Suffrage from 1866 to Today

Explore the campaign for women’s right to vote and its impact on women’s rights and equality to the present day.

What’s the difference between a free course and an upgraded course?

Free:

  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No certificate

Upgraded:

  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Beyond the Ballot: Women’s Rights and Suffrage from 1866 to Today

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Explore the remarkable history of women's rights

6th February 2018 will mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the change in the law that gave (some) women the right to vote in Westminster elections for the first time.

On this course you will travel back to the nineteenth century to explore the legal, social and economic frameworks that limited women’s rights prior to the vote and discover the pioneering women campaigning for change. You will learn the story of how and why the vote was extended to women in 1918, the movements behind this change and how the struggle for equality continued throughout the twentieth century.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 12 secondsOn the 6th of February, 1918, the Representation of the People Act received royal assent and passed into law, an act to amend the law with respect to parliamentary and local government franchises. They had granted the vote to women for the first time. This was the culmination of a long and hard-fought campaign by both the law-abiding suffragists and militant suffragettes, building on the efforts of generations of women who had campaigned on a wide variety of social and political matters not just for the vote. The success was qualified, though. Only women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification were enfranchised.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds Many of the young, ardent suffragettes were women factory workers whose actions it is often assumed paved the way to the vote were still unable to vote in 1918. When the vote was extended to these women by the Equal Franchise Act of 1928, it was soon evident that the right to vote, even on equal terms, as men, did not result in equality in the broader sense. In this course, we will chart the struggle for women's rights, and the vote in particular, from the first mass petition calling for female suffrage in 1866 to the Women's March of January in 2017.

Skip to 1 minute and 26 seconds Along the way, we will encounter women who rallied against the social and legal barriers that curtailed women's rights in the 19th century, and examine how women were represented in literature and art. We will discover the stories of pioneering political activism by women, challenging the slave trade, working conditions, and creating opportunities for women to access higher education. We will examine the campaign for the vote, its leading figures and organisations, assessing their tactics and effectiveness. And we will follow the passage of the Representation of the People Act in 1917 and 1918.

Skip to 2 minutes and 0 seconds Looking beyond the First World War, we will explore the causes women were campaigning for, both between the wars and after the Second World War, following the rise and contours of new equality and second-wave feminism. Finally, we will return to the militant suffragettes and consider how their actions were perceived at the time and how they would be judged today. We will also explore the place of protest in our representative democracy and ask when is it legitimate to challenge the legal status quo. In finding answers to these and other questions, I will be speaking with experts at Royal Holloway University of London, Parliament, the National Archives, and the Women's Library at the London School of Economics.

Skip to 2 minutes and 31 seconds So join us as we explore the history of women's rights and their campaign for the vote.

What topics will you cover?

Guided by Claire Kennan from Royal Holloway, University of London, you will examine:

  • The myth and reality of women’s experience of the nineteenth century through literature, art, work and the law;

  • Four pioneering women whose campaigns for issues other than the vote laid the foundation for the women’s suffrage campaign;

  • The movements and milestones in campaigning for votes for women;

  • The impact of the First World War and the passage of the 1918 Representation of the People Act;

  • The campaign for equality after 1918 and the impact of the first women MPs;

  • The relationship between protest and political change and how Suffragette militancy would be regarded today.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • assess and discuss the social, cultural and legal frameworks that curtailed women’s rights in the nineteenth century and how these were being challenged by a selection of pioneering women
  • assess and discuss the origins of the women’s suffrage movement and why early attempts to extend the franchise failed
  • evaluate and discuss why (some) women received the vote in 1918, comparing different arguments and assessing key documents
  • assess the impact of the struggle for equality since the passage of the Representation of the People Act, comparing the responses of early women MPs and campaigners and wider movements
  • reflect upon and discuss the role of protest in effecting political change and how Suffragette militancy and the government’s response at the beginning of the 20th century would be classified today

Who is the course for?

This course is intended for anyone with an interest in nineteenth or twentieth century history, the women’s suffrage campaign or the history of women’s rights. It does not require any reading before you start or previous experience of studying the subject.

Who will you learn with?

Claire Kennan

Citizens Project Officer
I work as part of the Citizens Project team at Royal Holloway, University of London. Citizens is a Heritage Lottery Fund supported project exploring the history of liberty.

Who developed the course?

Queen Victoria presided over the grand opening of Royal Holloway in 1886. Since then the College has continued to grow in size and status to become one of the top research-led institutions in the UK.

The UK Parliament represents the people of the United Kingdom and makes decisions that affect us all.

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What’s the difference between a free course and an upgraded course?

Free:

  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No certificate

Upgraded:

  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Get extra benefits, upgrade this course. For $54 (+ shipping) you'll get:

Unlimited access

Upgrading will mean you get unlimited access to the course.

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  • Take the course at your own pace
  • Refer to the material at any point in future

If you’re taking a course for free you have access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join. If you upgrade the course you have access for as long as the course exists on FutureLearn.

Certificate of Achievement

Upgrading means you’ll receive a Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course.

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  • Prove your success when applying for jobs or courses
  • Celebrate your hard work
  • Display on your LinkedIn or CV

To receive a Certificate of Achievement you need to mark 90% of the steps on the course as complete.

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