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125th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage on the Isle of Man 10 October 2006

In 1881 Tynwald approved the Election Bill and delivered the first instalment of women’s right to vote in parliamentary elections within the British Isles. This step also made the Isle of Man the first country in the world to give women the vote in national elections. Now the Old House of Keys is offering its visitors an opportunity to step back in time and participate in this most momentous moment of Manx political history.

The Election Bill was introduced into the Keys on 5th November 1880 and proposed to extend the vote to every man of full age who was not subject to any legal incapacity such as bankruptcy. However, the ‘Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage’ reasoned that by deleting the word ‘male’, women would also receive the vote. The Society organised public meetings on the Isle of Man to promote the issue and public and press support grew to the extent that at the last such meeting, a resolution proposing the extension of the vote to women was approved unopposed.

Public support proved crucial in persuading the House of Keys in favour of the Isle of Man becoming the first country in the world to legislate to give all women the vote in national elections. The Keys were widely applauded and campaigners in the United Kingdom voiced the hope that ‘the House of Commons will not be less just in dealing with the claims of women ratepayers - than its sister assembly, the House of Keys’.

However, when the Bill was sent to the Island’s second chamber, the Legislative Council, on UK Home Office instruction the Lieutenant Governor, advised that they could not endorse the Keys decision because it would never receive Royal Assent. After political posturing the Keys submitted to the Council and accepted limited franchise for women, but took the unprecedented step of approving the following resolution unanimously;

‘Resolved; that whilst accepting the proposition of the Council to confer the electoral franchise on female owners of real estate, and to exclude female occupiers, this House considers it right to record that their agreement to this proposal is solely with the object of securing the partial concession made by the Council towards female suffrage - and that the opinion already expressed by the House, that male and female occupiers are equally entitles to vote, remains unaltered’.

Thus, In the Isle of Man the right to vote was extended to unmarried women and widows who owned property.

To commemorate this momentous decision Manx National Heritage invites members of the public to visit the Old House of Keys in Castletown to hear the recreated 1881 debate on votes for women and to actually vote on the issue.

The Old House of Keys is open from 10am to 5pm until the end of October and is part of the award-winning Story of Mann.

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