Women’s Local Government Society
The Women’s Local Government Society was a cross-party and politically independent organisation that campaigned to enable women to stand as local councillors. They lobbied for the Qualification of Women (County and Borough Councils) Act 1907 that ensured women could be candidates for all councils for the first time.
A small group of women from across the political parties revived the WLGS to celebrate the centenary of the 1907 legislation and to try to complete the work of their predecessors: to help to achieve equal representation of women on all councils and at all levels of local government. We would like to build on that work in 2018 through a project that celebrates suffrage pioneers and encourages greater civic engagement in the twenty-first century.
When County Councils were first formed in 1889 a few women thought they would stand as candidates. The two outside London (in Lincolnshire and Tewksbury) didn’t win enough votes. The two testing the water in London were doing so with a little more organised support. The women behind their campaign were to become the Women’s Local Government Society. Lady Sandhurst won her seat in Brixton as did Jane Cobden in Bow. Their success led to legal challenges and wrangling continued throughout their term of office. By the time of the next election it was clear nomination papers from women candidates would not be accepted.
Women ratepayers had some experience of elected office by that time as members of school boards and as Poor Law Guardians.
The Women’s Local Government Society had a London based inner circle of activists led by Annie Leigh Browne. They had strong links with Liberalism, but succeeded in building links with individual Conservatives. Their aims were to increase the numbers of women seeking elected office and to increase the numbers of women who could vote in Local Government elections. The muddled systems of Local Government meant they had many a battle to fight. Women were accepted as candidates on Parishes and on Urban and Rural District Councils, but when County Boroughs expanded to cover a District area, women found they were no longer required. By 1905 they succeeded in getting a Bill they had lobbied for accepted in Parliament, to enable women to become County and Borough Councillors. Despite the Private Members’ Bill winning a majority, it took a General Election before the Bill became Law in August 1907. Women ratepayers were now able to sit on all types of council, and despite opposition in the Lords were able to become chairman of council or mayors.
All this was, of course, before women had achieved the Parliamentary vote. It took further legislation (whilst elections were suspended in wartime) to open up Local Government to a wider group of women both as voters and as candidates. The Women’s Local Government Society faded away in 1925, with many local organisations becoming Women Citizens’ Associations. The numbers of women elected to major councils after 1918 grew considerably, but equal representation has never been achieved and measuring and monitoring has been limited.
Around 2005 a group of women decide to revive the Women’s Local Government Society. Like their predecessors they intended from the outset to be cross-party and politically independent. They succeeded in encouraging a number of councils to look into their own history and celebrate the centenary of the 1907 legislation that their predecessors fought hard for.
The year 2007 also saw publication of a detailed report by the Councillors’ Commission, "Representing the Future (Communities and Local Government," December 2007). This looked at the shape of local government representation and found that “although the proportion of female councillors has doubled over the past 40 years, the increases over the last decade have been very small and women still comprise only 29.3 per cent of the total even though women form the majority – 52 per cent – of the population”. Progress since that date has continued to be slow, so the WLGS still has work to do.
If you would like to support WLGS in their work and be kept informed of activities, email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Look at our our Facebook page ‘Womens’ Local Government Society’
For more background about the early years of the WLGS then we recommend you read: "Ladies Elect. Women in English Local Government 1865-1914" by Patricia Hollis. Email us if you would like a copy to be sent to you.
Women's Local Government Society (WLGS) contact details:
Cllr Mrs Lesley Clarke OBE
Mobile: 07769 955708
Mobile: 07973 689782
Clerk, Steering Group
Mobile: 07903 964812
Web, email, twitter: