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Did East Lancs suffragettes campaign for vote in vain?
A hundred years ago, Nelson mill worker Selina Cooper was at the forefront of the suffragette movement, campaigning to get women the vote. We look at whether East Lancashire women are keeping Selina’s legacy alive.
SELINA Cooper was a remarkable woman, someone to whom every female of voting age owes an immense debt.
From the age of 12 she worked in Lancashire’s cotton mills, first in Barnoldswick and then in Nelson, and even at that young age she recognised the blatant inequality working women faced on a daily basis.
Initially as a member of the Cotton Workers’ Union and through leading Co-operative education classes in Nelson, Selina encouraged women to better themselves.
In 1900 she joined the North of England Society for Women’s Suffrage, which campaigned to get women the vote, and a year later became the first woman ever to be elected for the Independent Labour Party in the Poor Law Guardian elections.
She addressed the national conference of the Labour party in 1905 urging the leadership to support women’s suffrage and a year later formed the Nelson and District Suffrage Society.
As the suffragette movement grew, Selina was at the forefront alongside better known figure such as Emmeline Pankhurst.
A century ago, she went to 10 Downing Street to present a petition to the then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith putting the case for women to get the vote.
It would be another 18 years before an Act of Parliament gave equal voting rights to women.
And yet, as polling stations prepare to open their doors tomorrow, around 40 per cent of women are likely not to exercise the right that Selina and her colleagues fought so hard for.
At the last election just 61 per cent of women voted.
One of those who didn’t was mum-of-three Nicola Marsden, 27.
Now studying politics as part of a social services degree at Blackburn College University Centre, she is starting to form her political views.
She said: “I have never voted because I didn’t understand it before. I’m not fully up to speed yet, but I’m quite a bit more aware of it now.
“It’s important people do vote, but people have to know why they are voting, to understand exactly how important it is that one individual person’s vote can count.
“I now understand the different political terms that politicians come out with on TV and in the papers.
“The fact women fought for the vote should encourage women today to vote and more probably would if they understood more about it.”
But the lack of gender balance at Westminster shows the fight for political equality is a long way from over, and could be something which puts some women off voting, according to Nicola.
“Ninety per cent of blokes will say they don’t know what a woman wants, so if there’s no female representative at the top who’s speaking for us?” she asked.
First time voter Simone Khan, 18, from Blackburn, studies government and politics among her A Levels at Blackburn College and believes no one should neglect their ‘fundamental right’ to vote.
“If you don’t vote, what’s the point of a democracy? We have the right to vote so we should help decide who runs the country,” she said.
“Winning the vote wasn’t the end to it but people don’t bother to vote now because they’ve got the right.”
And despite a perceived sense of voting apathy among young people, Jade Mason, who will turn 18 just 10 days after the election, is frustrated she will be missing out.
“I’d definitely vote if I was a few days older,” A-level student Jade said.
“This year I think the importance of voting has been brought to light more, and there’s been more effort to make young people vote. The younger generation are interested this year.
“It’s important that you vote. You don’t know if things can change if you don’t try.”
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