Voting on women's right to vote

Harriet Taylor Mill was a philosopher and women's rights advocate, now largely remembered for her influence upon her second husband, John Stuart Mill, one of the pre-eminent thinkers of the 19th century.

They met in 1831 and had an affair that was to last for more than twenty years, generally tolerated by Harriet's husband. Their behaviour scandalised society tough and as a couple they were socially isolated. But they inspired each other intellectually and often worked together.

Her essay, 'The Enfranchisement of Women' (1851), considered one of her most important works, was published under Mills's name. The essay strongly advocated that women be given access to the same jobs as men, and that they should not have to live in 'separate spheres', views more radical than those of Mills himself.

John Stuart Mills' most famous work 'On Liberty', which they had written together, was published in 1859 and was dedicated to Harriet.

In 1865 he was elected MP for Westminster and when two years later the government put forward a bill to increase the electorate he saw a chance to make a pledge for women’s suffrage.

He then proposed an amendment of the bill asking for the word “man” to be changed with “person” to give all households the right to vote regardless of their gender.

73 MPs voted in favour but for 190 the idea was anathema. The prejudice about women’s ability to be independent minded in the public sphere was still too strong.


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