Virginia Woolf, "A Room of One’s Own" (1928)

Women's Suffrage and Women's Authority

        Although women could own property and might attend college, they still were not allowed to vote in England or America until the second decade of the twentieth century.  The "Representation of the People Act" of 1918, to which Woolf refers somewhat slightingly on page 37, gave the vote to men of 21 and over except peers (titled aristocrats), lunatics, and felons, and to married women, women householders (single mothers), and women university graduates of 30 and older.  The differences in qualifications for men and women voters suggests a great deal about how women's minds were understood to differ from men's, and what sorts of circumstances might eliminate that difference.  Peers had their own representatives in the House of Lords, so their inability to vote for members of the House of Commons was thought inconsequential.  However, the law effectively suggests that British lawmakers thought unmarried women without university educations or land ownership were the equivalent of lunatics and felons, and even university-trained women would not be free of this dangerous derangement until after their thirtieth birthdays.  In 1928, the year of this essay's publication, the age difference and other restrictions were removed, and both men and women 21 or older could vote.

        In the United States, the struggle proceeded at about the same rate, although some states and regions gave women the right to vote in state elections somewhat sooner (e.g., the Territory of Wyoming, in 1869).  In August of 1920, all American women over 21 finally won the right to vote in federal elections with the passage of Article XIX of the Bill of Rights.