This Woman’s Work: more than a centenary celebration

This year, 2018, will see a number of important anniversaries in the fight for women’s equality. The first of these, today, celebrates the centenary of the extension of the vote to some women aged 30 and older.

Later in the year we’ll note

  • the 60th anniversary of the Life Peerages Act 1958 (30th March), which allowed women to sit in the House of Lords
  • the 90th anniversary of the Equal Franchise Act 1928, (2 July) which gave women the right to vote at age 21 on the same terms as men
  • and the 100th anniversary of the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, allowing women to stand for election to the House of Commons (21 November).

The courage and commitment of campaigners for equal suffrage is hard to fully appreciate from our modern viewpoint.

Age UK has a particular fondness and pride in one of the suffragists, Eleanor Rathbone. Rathbone was an academic, a social reformer, political campaigner and one of those people who makes you feel like a serial underachiever, appearing to have had the impact of more than half a dozen people in a single lifetime.

Significantly for Age UK, in 1940 Rathbone chaired the Liverpool Old People’s Welfare Committee. One of Rathbone’s colleagues on the committee, Dorothy Keeling, wrote at the time:

‘We learnt a great deal from our work for old people…..We realised the great monotony of the lives of the elderly, especially those living alone, and the total absence of any colourful occupation. Not only, too, were many of them desperately lonely, but the feeling that they were no longer wanted was very common.’

Rathbone’s Committee soon gained national attention and became the National Old Peoples Welfare Committee which developed over the next decades to become Age Concern in 1971, which in turn – following the merger with Help the Aged in 2010 – became Age UK.

We can hope that our founder Eleanor Rathbone would be proud of the efforts her legacy continues through Age UK’s work nationally and locally through our 150 local partners.

But while 1.9 million pensioners live in poverty, the majority of these women, and older people continue to be discriminated against in employment, access to products and services and often feel ridiculed or ignored by society, and over a million people live with chronic loneliness, her work is far from finished.

We can take encouragement from Eleanor Rathbone’s success to hope that we too can make significant progress on all of this.

Author: Hannah Pearce

Joint Head of External Affairs, Age UK

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