With the Votes for Women issue on February 15, Royal Mail will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which granted women the right to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time.

The campaign for women's suffrage had taken almost a century, with the first petitions presented in parliament in 1832 and 1966. It gathered momentum towards the end of the 19th century with the establishment of two prominent pressure groups.

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, founded in 1897 and led from 1907 by Millicent Fawcett, was an umbrella organisation for 500 local branches comprising more than 100,000 members. Its members, usually called ‘suffragists’, co-ordinated constitutional action, such as meetings, marches and petitions.

The Women’s Social & Political Union, a breakaway group founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903, with the motto ‘Deeds not words’, favoured a more militant approach. Its activists, usually called ‘suffragettes’, inflicted criminal damage on government buildings and infrastructure (including postboxes!) and went on hunger strike when they were imprisoned.

The stamps are all based on photographic images from the 1908-14 period, when the campaign was at its peak before being suspended during World War I.

Passed on February 6, 1918, the Act enfranchised only women over the age of 30, and only if they met certain property qualifications. Not until 1928 was the right to vote extended to all women over the age of 21.

Designed by Supple Studio, the stamps were printed in litho by International Security Printers, and are available in se-tenant pairs.

2nd class LONE SUFFRAGETTE IN WHITEHALL, c1908

An intrepid woman holds up a placard with the slogan ‘Give women the vote this session’ in the London smog, while a policeman keeps a watchful eye and a passing gentleman looks bemused.

2nd class THE GREAT PILGRIMAGE OF SUFFRAGISTS, 1913

In the Great Pilgrimage, suffragists from all around England and Wales marched to London, where 50,000 attended a peaceful rally in Hyde Park. The banner suggests this group marched from Cornwall.

1st class SUFFRAGETTE LEADERS AT EARL’S COURT, 1908

Looking very prim of proper but with ‘Votes for women’ sashes, leading activists are seen recruiting for the militant Women’s Social & Political Union.

1st class WOMEN’S FREEDOM LEAGUE POSTER PARADE, c1907

A pacifist offshoot from the WSPU, the Women’s Freedom League campaigned for the wider cause of equality between the sexes, advocating non-payment of tazes and chaining themselves to objects in parliament.

£1.40 WELSH SUFFRAGETTES, CORONATION PROCESSION, 1911

The WSPU organised the Women's Coronation Procession five days before the Coronation of King George V in June 1911. This photograph shows a Welsh contingent in national costume, who marched between groups representing Scotland and Ireland.

£1.40 LEIGH AND NEW RELEASED FROM PRISON, 1908

Militant suffragettes Mary Leigh and Edith New served two months in prison after breaking windows in an attack on 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the Prime Minister. On their release, their supporters arranged a triumphal carriage parade through the streets of London.

£1.57 SOPHIA DULEEP SINGH SELLS THE SUFFRAGETTE, 1913

The WSPU published a weekly newspaper, The Suffragette, which the Government tried to suppress. The vendor shown in this photograph, Sophia Duleep Singh, was the daughter of a Maharaja and a goddaughter of Queen Victoria.

£1.57 SUFFRAGETTE PRISONERS’ PAGEANT, 1911

Another element of the Women's Coronation Procession of June 1911 was the Prisoners' Pageant, which marched immediately behind the suffragette leaders under a banner reading ‘From prison to citizenship’.

 

OTHER PRODUCTS

Written by Elizabeth Crawford, an expert on the women’s suffrage movement, the presentation pack describes the long and troubled history of the campaign.

Besides the usual first day cover, a coin cover is available with the special commemorative cupro-nickel 50p coin.

 

PRICES

Set of 8 stamps  £8.36

Presentation pack  £8.90

Stamp cards  £3.60

First day cover  £10.45

Coin cover  £17.50

 

VERDICT

COMMEMORATIVE WORTH   5/5

This is a landmark anniversary in what was a long struggle for women’s suffrage

QUALITY OF DESIGN  3/5

The archive photographs are revealing historical records, if not ideally suited to viewing at stamp size

WOW FACTOR   1/5

This monochrome issue may struggle to make much impact so soon after the brash Game of Thrones set