Standing up for women in politics
Many members of Parliament who supported women’s suffrage brought bills to Parliament, none of which succeeded, despite considerable support. This was because suffrage bills never received government support and it was notoriously difficult for private members’ bills to succeed in parliament. There was huge disappointment when the 1884 Reform Act, which significantly extended the male franchise, did not include a clause giving the vote to women householders.
Anna Haslam, aided by the writings of her husband Thomas, continued the fight, and in 1896 women in Ireland won the right to be elected as Poor Law Guardians, members of the official bodies which administered the Poor Law. Anna then spearheaded a campaign to encourage qualified women to stand for election. In 1898 women won eligiblility to vote in local government elections, and to stand for election as rural and urban district councillors. This was a significant breakthrough which made the case for parliamentary suffrage compelling, when one considers the absurdity of being voted onto bodies which administered the law while being precluded from a having a voice in the parliament which framed that law. By the end of 1898 there were 85 women Poor Law Guardians, 31 of whom were were also rural district councillors. In acknowledgement the DWSA changed its name to Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association (IWSLGA).
The 20th century saw the rise of the suffragette movement in England, followed in Ireland by the foundation of the Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL) by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and Gretta Cousins, who had been recruited by Anna as members of the IWSLGA. Anna continued her constitutional efforts, although overshadowed by the militant, younger and more flamboyant campaign of the IWFL. In February 1918, over 50 years after the Mill petition was presented to Parliament, the Representation of People Act enfranchised women over 30 in Great Britain and Ireland. In December 1918, she recorded her vote in the midst of “an admiring feminine throng”. In 1914 Francis Sheehy Skeffington wrote that the achievements of Thomas and Anna Haslam were too often forgotten by those “who have entered into the harvest of their labours.” They deserve to be remembered.