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Feb 6th 2018 will be the centenary of British women (aged over 30 with some other provisos) winning the vote. I will write 100 blogs over the next 4 months telling the history of the fight for the vote for women.

Blog 1: Women ask MP John Stuart Mill to challenge John Bull.

The fight for the vote for women essentially started with the formation of the Kensington Society in 1865. A group of about 50 ladies, mostly young and unmarried, met to discuss questions concerning women. Members included Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon (the leading British feminist of the 1850’s and member of the Langham Place set which was the forerunner of the Kensington Society); Emily Davies (who 4 years later was to become co-founder of Girton College with Bodichon); and Jessie Boucherett (founder of the Society for the Promotion of Employment of Women). The first meeting on May 23rd 1865 had Elizabeth Garrett, who had recently gained the London Society of Apothecaries qualification, and was therefore the member of the group most advanced towards full professional independence, present the first paper for discussion. This was on the subject of parental authority, but later discussions included the topic of the vote.

in March 1866, Gladstone’s Reform Bill, which was to give the vote to many men for the first time, based on a property ownership qualification, was to be introduced to the Houses of Commons. At this time Barbara Bodichon asked John Stuart Mill, a member of her social circle and an MP who was known to favour women’s rights including the vote, if he would submit a petition for extending the vote to certain women, by amendment to the proposed bill. This had been unofficially proposed by the Kensington Society. Such women would necessarily be just widows or spinsters, since a married woman’s property passed to her husband on marriage.

Mill agreed to submit the petition on the condition that the Kensington Society could find 100 signatures supporting it. A small working group consisting of Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Jessie Boucherett, Elizabeth Garrett and Rosamund Hill were formed to collect the signatures. It was the first woman’s suffrage committee.

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