Skip to content
The unveiling of the centenary banner celebrating 100 years of votes for women in Chester.

Chester: Suffragette City took place at the Parkgate Road Campus, where the guest of honour was Dr Helen Pankhurst, the great grand-daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, and the grand-daughter of another famous suffragette, Sylvia Pankhurst. Helen spoke about, and signed copies of, her book, Deeds Not Words (the motto of the suffragette movement).

Just over 100 years previously, on Saturday December 14, 1918, women were first able to vote in the UK (although bad weather and the need to wait for troops who were still stationed overseas to cast their votes meant that the count didn’t actually take place until the 28th). The vote followed the Representation of the People Act, which received Royal Assent in February 1918, and which had enfranchised around 8.4 million women (who had to be over 30 years old, and meet a modest property qualification, in order to be eligible to vote).

The day-long event was organised by Professor Emma Rees, Director of the University’s Institute of Gender Studies. As part of the celebrations, on Friday, December 14, a plaque was unveiled at Chester’s Town Hall, to commemorate Kate Clarke, Chester’s first woman Sheriff and prominent Chester Liberal, Phyllis Brown, Chester’s first woman Mayor. Professor Rees and Christine Russell arranged for the plaque to be made and it was paid for from the Members’ budgets of Councillor Gill Watson and Councillor Angie Chidley.

During the Saturday event, a centenary banner made by local needleworkers was revealed. The project was led by Institute of Gender Studies student Elaine Rowland and designer Graham Boyd, in the great tradition of suffragette banners. As part of the unveiling, they talked about the importance of banners in the suffrage movement and gave an insight into the production process. The search is now on for a permanent home for the banner in the city.

The event also included local historian Isabel Challinor, who gave a talk on women who have lived in the city’s King’s buildings (especially ‘Chester’s Florence Nightingale’ Frances Wilbraham), and local archivist Tabby Hanlon shared newspaper cuttings from the election day itself. The 1st Upton Rainbows, 3rd Upton Rainbows and 5th Chester Brownies, who have been working on their ‘Vote 100’ badge, sang the suffragette song from Mary Poppins.

The day also included Christine Russell, Chester’s first female MP, in conversation with Councillor Sam Dixon, leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, about the role of women in political life today.

Professor Emma Rees said: “Chester: Suffragette City was a wonderful occasion and a great opportunity for us to remember the people – suffragettes, suffragists, and allies – who played their part in ensuring that women’s votes could be cast on that rainy December morning in the city 100 years ago.

“It was an absolute honour for us to be joined by Helen Pankhurst. She spoke about how gender inequality persists and what we can do to overcome it. I thoroughly enjoyed chairing the day and would like to thank all those who attended and participated - we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback.”

Share this content