6 February 2018 marked 100 years since the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which allowed women to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time.

Munition workers for the Coalbrookdale Company, c.1914-1918.


The 1918 Act was passed after hundreds of thousands of women had joined the workforce to support the war effort during World War I (1914 - 1918). It came after more than fifty years of campaigning for women’s rights by suffragists and suffragettes, and it marked a decisive turning point which affected women in every corner of Britain, including those employed in the industries of the Ironbridge Gorge. To celebrate this defining moment in British history, the museum installed silhouettes of women on the green at Coalbrookdale to represent the 37 women, out of approximately 160 in total, who were working in the ceramic and iron industries across the Gorge, and who gained the right to vote in 1918.


Although 1918 was a turning point in the fight for women’s rights, the Act was limited in its impact and resulted in millions of ordinary working women still being denied the right to vote, including most of the women working in the Gorge’s industries. The majority of women who had worked throughout the war, who had taken on men’s roles, had worked in dangerous munitions factories, and had kept the country running remained disenfranchised.


The temporary installation on the Green at Coalbrookdale acknowledged that 1918 was a landmark moment in British history, and a turning point in the fight for women’s rights, but the passing of the 1918 Act was not the end of the story. It was to be another ten years before women gained voting rights on equal terms with men, and in many ways the fight for social and political equality in Britain continues today, with ongoing campaigns for freedom from discrimination, harassment and violence, and the right to fair and equal wages.