The Representation of the People Act finally received Royal Assent on 6 February 1918. This meant that women over thirty who were householders, wives of householders, occupiers of property of £5 or more annual value, or University graduates, could now vote. In March 1918 the Women Workers, Quarterly Magazine of the Birmingham Branch of the National Union of Women Workers included an article by Catherine Osler, President of the Birmingham Women’s Suffrage Society (BWSS). Titled ‘At Last!’, Catherine reflected on the campaign to secure votes for women, something she had been closely involved with since her parents formed the BWSS in 1868. Catherine became President of the organisation in 1901. While it was certainly an achievement to be celebrated, the conditions of qualifying were ‘not all that could be desired – far from it! They do not fulfil the original and unaltered demand of suffragists for “the vote on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men”. It leaves still unrepresented classes of women who are among the worthiest, most indispensable workers for their country and for their fellows’.
Catherine also considered the wider campaign and the sacrifices that many women had made; ‘some, indeed, have dared infinitely more than this – have courted and endured gross insult, maltreatment, torture, death itself, in the determination to draw the world’s attention to women’s wrongs… the startling campaign of the militant section… has now become as a nightmare memory, but one which will survive in history’.
Birmingham had seen some very serious militant incidents carried out by suffragettes from 1909 onwards, including arson (most notably the destruction of Northfield Library), church disturbances, window smashing and the slashing of a painting. It was also where the first cases of forcible feeding of suffragettes took place, at Winson Green Gaol in September 1909 after a number of women were arrested for their protest during a visit to the city by Prime Minister Asquith. In the article, Catherine also acknowledged the campaign’s well-established roots, going back to the 1860s, stating that ‘it was not because on grounds of reason and common sense suffrage was “bound to come” but because the nation had for 50 years been patiently and unceasingly educated to the conviction of its justice and righteousness, that the conditions of war enabled its advocates to make the final effort which brought victory… a great dividing barrier has disappeared from the ranks of women themselves, and that henceforth we may go forward shoulder to shoulder’.