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Votes for Women: Pioneers

Votes for Women: Pioneers

Votes for Women: Pioneers

Past display archive
8 January 2018 - 6 January 2019

Room 25, Floor 1


This display represents some Victorian women who were pioneers in the struggle for political representation. It commemorates the passing of the Representation of the People Act on 6 February 1918, which gave thousands of British women the right to vote in general elections; an important stepping stone towards ‘universal suffrage’ for both sexes that was finally achieved a decade later.

Nineteenth-century feminism in Britain originated during the upheaval of the industrial revolution, and with the publication in 1792 of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women. The first petition asking for votes for women was presented to Parliament in 1866.  The movement was galvanised in 1867 when the Reform Act gave the majority of men the right to vote for the first time, but excluded women. Many of the pioneering figures in this display came from families with political connections. Some are siblings: Jane Cobden Unwin and Anne Cobden Sanderson were daughters of the Liberal MP Richard Cobden. The Garrett sisters, Elizabeth, Agnes and Millicent joined the campaign as teenagers; Millicent Garrett Fawcett becoming the leader of the constitutional campaign.

This display is part of the wider programme of events and displays at the National Portrait Gallery to mark this anniversary.

Votes for Women

Visit also the display Votes for Women in room 33 from 27 January - 3 June 2018.

Find out more


Rebel Women sponsored by MGallery by Sofitel

Photographs Collection: Display


Pioneer Podcasts

Listen to a series of podcasts exploring the lives of pioneering women, past and present.

Explore the podcasts

Untitled, c.1973 (Alex Chilton) by William Eggleston © Eggleston Artistic Trust

Eggleston Playlist

William Eggleston was closely associated with the alternative music scene in Memphis. Revisit our 2016 exhibition and listen to a special playlist.

Listen to the playlist

Archive interviews

Links to audio and transcripts of interviews with artists, sitters and historic recordings.

Watch, listen and read