The Isle of Man was the first place in the world where women could vote in a national election. However, no Women’s Suffrage Bill as such was ever brought before Tynwald. Giving women the right to vote was instead debated as part of wider reforms to elections in the Isle of Man—and it was achieved through the removal of a single word from a Bill.
In 2018 the United Kingdom is celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, when women householders, leaseholders, and graduates over the age of 30 were given the right to vote in elections to the House of Commons.
By 1918, women householders in the Isle of Man had been able to vote in elections to the House of Keys for 37 years, and women leaseholders had been able to for 26 years. A year later, in 1919, all women resident in the Isle of Man would be given both the vote and the right to stand for election, regardless of their property status.
Unlike in the United Kingdom, there was no mass campaigning of the sort organised by the suffragettes. Instead, it appears to have been largely the work and initiative of individuals such as Richard Sherwood MHK, who worked to secure votes for women in the 19th century, and William Crennell MHK, whose efforts achieved universal adult suffrage in the early 20th century. These men were, however, undoubtedly supported in their mission by women and other allies, whose names and deeds have sadly not been recorded.
Giving women householders the vote in 1881 was the first in a long line of extensions to the franchise, all of which can be summarised by the principle of ‘no taxation without representation. The current Tynwald Presidnet The Hon. Steve Rodan MLC said "I am proud to have made my own contribution to the development of the Isle of Man’s democracy when I successfully moved an amendment to the Registration of Electors Bill 2006. This lowered the voting age to 16 years old, making us the first country in western Europe to do so. The ability to influence government-introduced legislation in this way is a great strength of our consensus democracy and parliamentary system."
The early enfranchisement of women in the Isle of Man has unfortunately not translated directly into parliamentary representation. Until the General Election in 2016 and the Legislative Council election in 2018, there had only been 12 women Members of Tynwald in total.
Click the links on the left to read more about Women's Suffrage in the Isle of Man.