Arguments against Women's Suffrage



Comments on the Enfranchisement 

of Women


The men of the time had any number of reasons why women should not be given the vote.   Most of them, today, we would regard as pure prejudice.


You can read the comments of:


From the 1906 debate on the 1906 Resolution on the Enfranchisement of Women:


Mr Samuel Evans


From the Debate on the ‘Conciliation’ Bill, 28 March 1912


Mr Harold Baker (opposing the Bill):


Viscount Helmsley (seconding the opposition):


The Prime Minister, Mr Asquith


Mr Eugene Watson


Mr Lane-Fox


Mr Cator


Mr Arnold Ward


Mr MacCullum Scott



But not only men, but women, opposed the idea of votes for women:


Against Women Suffrage


Because women already have the municipal vote, and are eligible for membership of most local authorities.   These bodies deal with questions of housing, education, care of children, workhouses and so forth, all of which are peculiarly within a woman's sphere.   Parliament, however, has to deal mainly with the administration of a vast Empire, the maintenance of the Army and Navy, and with questions of peace and war, which lie outside the legitimate sphere of woman's influence.


Because all government rests ultimately on force, to which women, owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of con­tributing.


Because women are not capable of full citizenship, for the simple reason that they are not available for purposes of national and Imperial defence.   All government rests ultimately on force, to which women, owing to physical, moral and social reasons, are not capable of contributing.


Because there is little doubt that the vast majority of women have no desire for the vote.


Because the acquirement of the Parliamentary vote would logically involve admission to Parliament itself, and to all Government offices.   It is scarcely possible to imagine a woman being Minister for War, and yet the principles of the Suffragettes involve that and many similar absurdities.


Because the United Kingdom is not an isolated state, but the administrative and governing centre of a system of colonies and also of dependencies.   The effect of introducing a large female ele­ment into the Imperial electorate would undoubtedly be to weaken the centre of power in the eyes of these dependent millions.


Because past legislation in Parliament shows that the interests of women are perfectly safe in the hands of men.


Because Woman Suffrage is based on the idea of the equality of the sexes, and tends to establish those competitive relations which will destroy chivalrous consideration.


Because women have at present a vast indirect influence through their menfolk on the politics of this country.


Because the physical nature of women unfits them for direct com­petition with men.

Grace Saxon Mills, writing in the years before 1914



Here are the reasons which some modern school textbooks have said were given for opposing the vote:


The opposition was great.   Some men objected to women having the vote because they believed them to be inferior.   It was suggested that women could not think out matters coolly and calmly.   Others would not agree to women’s suffrage because they did not want change.   Women had never voted before.   Why should they start now?   A further objection involved property.   In 1900, few women were householders or lodgers.   If the vote were given to them, then it would have to be given also to men who were not householders or lodgers.   At that time political parties were not prepared to do this.

John Ray, The Place of Women ( 1971)

A school textbook from the 1970s.


There were of course many people who opposed the idea of women’s suffrage.   They were known as the ‘Antis’.   Here are some of the reasons they gave:


1.   Women would be corrupted by politics and chivalry would die out

2.   If women became involved in politics, they would stop marrying, having children, and the human race would die out
3.   Women were emotional creatures, and incapable of making a sound political decision.


These reasons may seem ludicrous to us, but at the time were taken seriously by a wide cross-section of women as well as men.

Diane Atkinson, Votes for Women (1988)

A school textbook from the 1980s


Arguments against women having the vote.  

At first, the idea that women should have the vote was seen as so ridiculous that no one attempted to oppose it.   When the suffragettes began to win support, those opposing them had to take them more seriously.  


These are the arguments they came up with.   Some of them might seem silly to you, but they made a lot of sense to people at the time:


- “Women and men have ‘separate spheres’.”

- “Most women do not want the vote.”

- “Women’s role is in local affairs.”

- “Women are already represented by their husbands.”

- “It is dangerous to change a system that works.”

- “Women do not fight to defend their country.”

Colin Shephard and Rosemary Rees, British Society in Change 1906-1918 ( 2002)

A modern school textbook



A book published by Liverpool Museum echoes many of these ideas:


The Anti-Women’s Suffrage League

Serious concern about the impact of women getting the vote was quite widespread throughout the duration of the campaign.   This concern had complex roots bound up with Victorian views about women’s position in society.   On the one hand women were considered too precious and innocent to become embroiled in public life, on the other they were thought too irrational and emotional to make an intelligent contribution.   Whatever their abilities, their place was thought to be in the home.  


As women they were also considered to be naturally conservative.   The Liberal Party and later on the Labour Party feared the backlash of women’s votes which they expected to be conservative.   It was these concerns that had kept women out of public life for such a line time.   Those campaigning for women’s suffrage were not helped by the fact that opposition to their cause included many women.   In 1908 general concerns took on an organised form and a small group of well known women formed the Women’s National Anti-Suffrage League.

Marij Van Helmond , Votes for Women: the events on Merseyside (1992)

Marij Van Helmond is a museums development officer.



Finally, this comment from a famous left-wing historian suggests that some people did not support women's suffrage because they thought there were other, more important causes to fight for:


Popular but Unimportant

A change in the social position and expectations of women became obvious in the last decades of the 19th century.   Among these we need not pay too much attention to the… dramatic campaign of the ‘suffragists’ and ‘suffragettes’ for the women’s right to vote…   Votes for women were, like other aspects of female emancipation, strongly supported on principle by the new labour and socialist parties…   However, whilst this new socialist left overlapped with suffragist feminism, it had to notice that most working-class women laboured under disabilities which were much more urgent than not having the vote, and which would not be automatically removed by the right to vote.

EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire (1987)

EJ Hobsbawn was one of Britain ’s leading historians, although he had a socialist interpretation of history.