It’s a well-known fact that women first got the vote after a suffragette victory in 1918. In the same year, Parliament passed the Qualification of Women Act, which allowed women to stand as candidates and be elected as MPs. The forgotten female, a women who people rarely recognise the name of, is Constance Markievicz – the first women to be elected in the Commons.
She ran as a candidate in the 1918 general election, straight after the act had been passed. Constance was a member of the Sinn Fein Party, the left wing Irish nationalist political party that still plays prominent role today in Irish politics. Although she won her seat in the Dublin St Patrick’s constituency, she didn’t take it, which makes her arguably one of the most significant, and stubborn, figures of recent history for women.
Constance became active in politics in 1908 where she joined the Sinn Fein party as well as Inghinidhe na hEerann (an Irish women’s movement). However, she didn’t take on Irish Independence politics until the First World War broke out in 1914, where thousands of Irish men volunteered to fight in Britain’s needy hour.
Many Irishmen were not willing to accept the continuance of Ireland remaining as part of a greater Britain, and saw Britain’s involvement in the war as an opportunity to express their views. This lead to the Easter Rising – which Constance herself got involved with. She played an active role in the fighting, despite the revolution only lasting for six days. 70 women were arrested, following the crushing of this mini revolution by the British military.
However, of all of the women arrested, Constance was the only one held in solitary confinement at Kilmainham Jail. She was brought in front of the courts (practically admitting her guilt by saying, “I did what was right and I stand by it,”) and she was sentenced to death.
Fortunately, Constance was spared from the death penalty because she was a female. Although when she was told this news she didn’t seem best pleased, saying, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” The feisty female was subsequently released from prison in 1917.
Taking part in the Easter Rising showed her allegiance to the cause for an independent Ireland. After such involvement she was not likely to take her seat in the commons as to become an Member of Parliament she would have to swear allegiance to the King. She saw herself as Irish and didn’t want to play any part in British politics.
What was achieved by Constance should be noted in the history books. Her actions in the 1918 election were a huge step forward for women across the United Kingdom, showing grit and determination for her cause. Unfortunately this is not the case, most likely because of her nationalist problematic behavior.
However, her legacy to the cause of nationalism in Ireland and to the women movement was verified when 250,000 people lined the streets for her funeral when in 1927 proving that she was a hero, and perhaps even idol, to many.
With 2018 being the 100th anniversary centenary of women getting the vote, I believe it’s important to consider everything achieved, and the actions of Constance to break the mould of male supremacy in parliament certainly should not be forgotten.