Mrs Frances Connelly
Yeovil's first female voter
For the sake of background information - women's suffrage in the United Kingdom became a national movement in 1872. Women were not allowed to vote in Great Britain until the 1832 Reform Act and the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act. Both before and after 1832, establishing women's suffrage on some level was a political topic, although it would not be until 1872 that it would become a national movement with the formation of the National Society for Women's Suffrage and later the more influential National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The movement shifted sentiments in favour of woman suffrage by 1906. It was at this point that the militant campaign began with the formation of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 led to a suspension of all politics, including the militant suffragette campaigns although lobbying did take place quietly. In 1918, a coalition government passed the Representation of the People Act 1918, enfranchising women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications. Ten years later, in 1928, the Conservative government passed the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act giving the vote to all women over the age of 21.
However, the first female to vote in Yeovil was Mrs Frances Connelly of Reckleford who claimed, and cast her vote, in November 1911. The following report is from the Taunton Courier & Western Advertiser's edition of 29 November 1911 -
"The election will be remembered for the first time in the history of the constituency a woman claimed and was allowed to exercise the Parliamentary franchise. At the very moment a Suffragist's car was touring Yeovil displaying to an amused crowd the legend "Mothers want votes", a lady was putting her cross against the name of Mr Aubrey Herbert - at least she is supposed to be on the Unionist side - at the Town Hall. Mrs Frances Connelly, of Reckleford, Yeovil, discovered that her name was on the register and claimed to vote. The presiding officer (Mr WW Henley) demurred. The lady consulted the Conservative agent, Mr Harold Fletcher, who, having in turn discussed the situation with Mr WT Snell, barrister of the Western Circuit, who happened to be assisting in the Committee room, interviewed the presiding officer and represented to him that the lady's name being on the register he had no alternative but to allow her to vote, the only conditions being that she was the person described on the register and had not previously voted in the election. The point was carried, and Mrs Connelly voted. What is more her vote was recorded in the ordinary way - not upon a 'tendered' paper - and was counted with the others."
Frances Connelly died in Yeovil in 1917, aged 48.
Many thanks to Rob Baker for forwarding the article to me.
Mrs Frances Connelly of Reckleford, the first female in Yeovil to vote.