Resources for Schools: Women, the Great War, and the Vote

University teaching resources for schools

These materials are produced by university lecturers and researchers for use at Highers and A Level. They are designed particularly for those studying Higher Paper 1: Britain 1851-1951; and Higher Paper 2: The Impact of the Great War, 1914-28.

There is a common view that women were given the vote in 1918 as a reward for their contribution to the war effort, while some historians argue that it was the period of suffragette militancy between 1903 and the outbreak of war that really put the issue of women’s enfranchisement on the political agenda. Research on how the war affected women’s lives and on the longer term campaigns for women’s suffrage challenges these views, and offers different interpretations, presented in the resources here.

Three short videos provide different viewpoints on women’s campaigns for the vote and the impact of the war on women. Each video is accompanied by a set of questions for pupils. There are also background papers which can be used in conjunction with the videos – these outline key themes, provide extracts from sources and ideas for further reading.



To what extent were women’s opportunities expanded during the First World War?

Dr Wendy Ugolini, University of Edinburgh, explores the impact of the war on women’s work. She examines the extent to which this led to some women being granted the vote in 1918.

What advances were made for women according to Dr Ugolini? In what ways?

Did all women gain in 1918 as a result of the war?

Is she arguing that the vote was a reward for war work?

Women and War resource document: summary notes, and recommended reading.


Why is it important to take a longer term perspective?

Dr Esther Breitenbach (University of Edinburgh) looks at the evolution of demands for women’s political rights over the course of the nineteenth century, and the continuing campaign for full enfranchisement which went on till 1928. She argues that, given women’s lengthy experience of local government and public office by the early twentieth century, the partial enfranchisement of women in 1918 was less evidence of a reward to women than of persistent resistance to universal suffrage.

In which movements did demands for equal rights for women emerge?

When did women first start to campaign for the vote in an organised way?

What evidence is there of women’s involvement in political and public life before 1914?

Why did it take till 1928 for women to get the vote on the same terms as men?

Votes for Women – longer term perspective resource document: paper outlining women’s campaigning in the nineteenth century, participation in school boards and local government, and campaign for the full franchise until 1928, and recommended reading.

Timeline resource document: timeline giving key dates in the extension of the franchise and women’s demands for political rights from 1792 to 1928.

Primary source extracts resource document: extracts from eight primary sources on women’s enfranchisement, from Marion Reid’s Plea for Women (1843) to the Scotsman’s report of women’s celebration of the vote in 1928.


How has the history of the suffragists and suffragettes been written and with what effect?

Professor Sarah Pedersen, Robert Gordon University, looks at the ways in which suffrage history has been written. She argues that the early accounts written by former suffrage activists have shaped the ways that historians have evaluated the success of the movement. Historians have tended to view the two groups as opposed camps rather than strands of the same cause. Professor Pedersen argues that this has distracted commentators ever since from a fair evaluation of the very real contribution made by all campaigners.

Both the suffragists and the suffragettes thought that their actions had won the vote for women. Why did they think this?

Were the activities of the suffragettes in any way self-defeating?

Were the suffragists and the suffragettes more united than divided?

 The Conciliatory Suffragette resource document: article by Sarah Pedersen about Caroline Phillips of the Aberdeen branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union. First published in History Scotland, March/April, 2005.

You can also read about the role of Shetland’s women in the Great War in the March/April 2014 issue of History Scotland at


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