Social Changes

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Votes for Women

The Isle of Man became the first country in the world to give women the vote in national elections. In 1881 the right to vote was extended to unmarried women and widows who owned property, and as a result 700 women received the vote, comprising about 10% of the Manx electorate. In England women had to wait until 1918 for the right to vote, and until 1928 for all women to be eligible to vote.

The original right to vote had been extended to a limited proportion of the Island’s population and calls continued to be made for a greater number to be eligible to vote. In the 1870s, out of a population of 53,000, only 4,333 were eligible to vote in elections.

Miss Lydia Becker, a leading campaigner for votes for women. Photo courtesy of Oldham Studies and ArchivesThe Election Bill, introduced in 1880, proposed to give the vote to every male person of full age who was not subject to any legal incapacity. Members of the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage reasoned that by merely deleting the word male, women would also receive the vote.

The Society organised a series of well attended meetings on the Island to publicise the issue of ‘Votes for Women’ and attracted coverage in Manx and English newspapers.

The campaign met with substantial support on the Island, both in the papers and amongst women unhappy with paying taxes and rates but having no political representation.

The Election Bill went before the Keys on the 5th November 1880, still with the words ‘male persons’ in the Bill. But following comments by the Speaker, Sir John Stenhouse Goldie-Taubman, it was proposed to remove the word ‘male’, thereby entitling females to vote.

It was the view of many members of the Keys that justice, taxation and representation go together. The majority of the Keys were supportive and voted 16 to 3 to pass the Bill.

Open Roads – fast bikes
TT racer from 1910The Isle of Man is a Crown Dependency, outside the direct control of Westminster, and the House of Keys is able to introduce unique legislation that might not be possible or wanted in the rest of the British Isles. An example was the introduction of road closing legislation to allow racing on the Island’s public roads.Road racing was rapidly becoming popular in mainland Europe as a way of competitively testing new automobile technology. Unfortunately for British racing enthusiasts, the British Government refused to allow roads to be closed for racing or to relax the strict speed limits.

A solution was found when Julian Orde, Secretary of the Automobile Club of Great Britain, talked to his relative Lord Raglan, Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man, in March 1904, with a view to the Island’s roads being used to stage road races.
Raglan introduced the required road closing legislation to Tynwald, although he commented:

‘I need hardly point out that a race held at a rate of 14 miles an hour cannot be exceedingly useful for the purpose of finding out the best cars !’
Hansard 1904

It was agreed that the roads would be closed and speed restrictions lifted and The Highway (Light Locomotive) Bill was speedily passed. As a result road racing became legal on the Isle of Man in time for the Gordon Bennett Time Trials in 1904.

The hopes of the House of Keys that the Trials would both bring extra tourists here and be an important ‘first’ for the Island, were realised within a few years. The annual T.T. (Tourist Trophy) races were established for motorcycle racing in 1907, and have continued to flourish as a unique Island attraction.