How will these resources help you?

Pupils are often taught about the Suffragettes and the fight for equality in the 20th century, but what of the women from before that time who forced their way into the history records? It can be harder to find resources about them. The Historical Association (HA) and the Association for Citizenship Teaching (ACT) brought together an excellent collection of resources and enquiries to celebrate the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 2018. They make a great starting point for new perspectives on this important aspect of history. The resources include an excellent timeline of stories of women's suffrage from the 1500s to 1928.

Early cases of female participation

Women in early modern parliamentary politics by Andrew Thrush, published by History of Parliament blog, WordPress, (2013) Read this article
Women at the polls in the Seventeenth Century by Vivienne Larminie, published by History of Parliament blog, WordPress, (2013) Read this article
These two short articles provide a starting point for discussion of female participation in British politics, with a brief look at the background. The first article examines the cases of Margery Batty and Mary Wakefield in the Knaresborough election of 1626, and the second the cases of Elizabeth Crayford and Agnes Tarry in the Wiltshire parliamentary election of 1640.

Early feminist writing

A Serious Proposal to the Ladies by Mary Astell, (1694) View this resource
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft, published by Penguin Classics, (2020 (originally 1792)), 9780241382622 Find this book
These two early works, separated by almost 100 years, give early examples of feminist writing – before the Great Reform Act of 1832 firmly shut the door on women’s participation in parliamentary elections. Mary Astell made a call for better female education long before Mary Wollstonecraft (the 'first feminist') laid out the principles of female emancipation: an equal education for girls and boys, an end to prejudice, and for women to become defined by their profession, not their partner.

Case study: Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

The Duchess

by Amanda Foreman, published by Harper Perennial, (2008), 9780007285754

Winner of the 1998 Whitbread best biography, this is an adult story – but with much to offer the young student of female participation in politics. Georgiana Cavendish, a distant relative of Diana, Princess of Wales, was one of the most flamboyant and influential women of the 18th century. Chapter 5 covers the Duchess’ introduction to politics, and Chapter 9 the Westminster Election in which her support for Whig Charles Fox was so controversial. The book was made into a film in 2008: The Duchess (12A).

Case study: Lady Emily Foley

Lady Emily Foley: A Remarkable Life

by Pamela Hurle, published by Aspect Design, (2018), 9781912078769

The first published biography of this remarkable aristocrat, who played an unusually influential role in local politics and life in Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Lady Foley was a controversial character with plenty of outspoken critics and dedicated admirers. She played a key role as an electoral patron in 1858 in support of her brother.

Audiovisual clips

Frankenstein: Birth of a Monster - Wollstonecraft and Godwin

published by BBC, (2011)

This video introduces Wollstonecraft.
The Secret Life of Books - The intellectual backdrop to ‘Frankenstein’

published by BBC, (2014)

This video introduces Mary Shelley and her mother, Wollstonecraft.

Further Materials

On Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Discovering Literature, published by The British Library Read this article
On Mary Astell's A Serious Proposal to the Ladies by Simone Webb, published by 1000-Word Philosophy, (2018) Read this article
Paul Martin is a specialist History author, editor and resource developer for UK secondary schools, a member and editor for the Historical Association, and a member of the Richard III Society. He has contributed to numerous series of resources for KS3–5 History, was series editor for Scholastic’s new GCSE History revision guides and wrote and reviewed for Educake’s new GCSE History online quizzes.

Text © Paul Martin, 2020.