The passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 followed more than fifty years of campaigning by suffragists and suffragettes. The fight for the right to vote took place across Britain, including in Shropshire.


In Shropshire, most of the campaigning for women’s suffrage took place in Shrewsbury. Some of the town’s inhabitants were involved in the movement from its earliest days when four Shrewsbury women signed a parliamentary petition calling for the enfranchisement of women in 1866. The 1866 petition is widely considered to mark the beginning of an organised and sustained campaign for women’s suffrage.

Women living in Shrewsbury signed further petitions throughout the 1860s and 1870s, and a suffrage committee was formed in the town in January 1871. However, this society likely collapsed before 1882.


A Shropshire branch of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) was formed in 1908. The society used constitutional campaign methods including petitions, pamphlets and meetings. For most of the branch’s existence, its president was Mrs Katherine Harley. Harley grew up in a military background and married an army officer. She brought military-style organisation to the suffrage movement in Shropshire and was described by Millicent Fawcett as a woman of ‘great originality and imagination…she was the life and soul of the suffrage movement in Shrewsbury and the neighbourhood, where her fine character has left a lasting impression’. Harley was also the originator of the Women’s Pilgrimage in 1913, which saw thousands of women travel from across Britain to London to show their support for the suffrage campaign.


Whilst the NUWSS was at the core of the suffrage movement in Shropshire, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), or the suffragettes, also made an appearance in the county. In June 1912, Elsie Helsby smashed the windows of Ludlow post office with hammers bearing labels calling for ‘Votes for Women’, and protesting against the force-feeding of those on hunger strike. Helsby was sentenced to a month of hard labour in Shrewsbury prison. In addition, one of the WSPU’s Midlands organisers was based in Shrewsbury in 1913.


Slightly closer to the Ironbridge Gorge, there was campaigning activity in Wellington. In 1909, an NUWSS meeting was held in the town, but only seven people attended. By 1911, a Wellington branch of the NUWSS was set up with 43 members. Like other NUWSS branches, they held regular meetings to encourage new members, and used constitutional and non-violent methods to campaign for the vote.