World War I
As in the UK, the First World War was the turning point which paved the way to women’s suffrage. In August 1914 the 1st Devonshire Regiment, including many Jerseymen, had marched from Mount Bingham to Victoria Pier and on to war. Women started to replace men in the workplace and attitudes to the role of women in society began to shift.
Although the votes for women campaign was not as dramatic in Jersey as it was in the UK, the ladies branch of the Jersey Political Association formed in October 1918, and Caroline Trachy, its first President, wasted no time at the end of the war to press for change. In an open letter, published on 11th November 1918, she said:
“The women in this war have given their dearest and best, who have been taken with or without their consent, and as husbands, sons and brothers, in the sight of God, (if not of man) belong to their womenfolk, then those women in the future have every right to have a voice in the disposal of their dear ones.”
Winning the vote
A draft law enabling women over 30 to vote was introduced in the States on 10th April 1919. Debated over several days, it was passed on 22nd May 1919 and entered into force on 12th July 1919.
There was no opposition in the States to giving women the vote, but the decision not to empower younger women to vote was contested.
Connétables led the campaign for more radical change. The Connétable of St. Helier, supported by his counterpart from St. Mary, tried to amend the law to lower the voting age to 20 and the Connétable of St. Lawrence wanted the voting age for men and women to be set at 16. “Women of 21 were generally more intelligent and matured than the callow youths of the same age” argued Deputy Henderson. Separate legislation passed in 1919 enabled women aged over 20 to be members of parish assemblies, if they were of independent means and met the property qualifications.
Jurat Lemprière was prominent in arguing against younger women being able to vote:
A boy knew a great deal about politics from his early years, but with a girl it was very different, her attention being generally given to household duties. A young man who talked politics to the girl he walked out with would find the subject was not very well received.
The Deputy of Grouville made one of the more controversial speeches in the debate, saying:
“The Government should be run by both sexes, but the male sex should predominate because of the fact that all government was based on physical force in the last instance. If they were to give the vote to all women they would be able in the course of time owing to their numerical preponderance, to have a majority on the administration.”
The Evening Post recorded the following response to this remark:
Several Members: All the better.
Deputy of Grouville: Maybe, but I don’t think so.
The Deputy of St. Saviour: That’s because of your ignorance.
The Assembly voted 18 to 13 against setting the voting age for women at 21.
The struggle continues
During the debate on votes for women, it was assumed that women would soon be elected to the States. For example, the Rector of St. Martin, who wanted women under 30 to be given the vote, said “It would add considerably to the attractions of the House if some of the members were attractive young women.”
However, when Caroline Trachy attempted to stand for election in St. Helier in 1922 she was prevented from doing so. Although women could vote, it remained illegal for women to sit in the States. Mrs Trachy established the Women’s Jersey Political Union to campaign to end this injustice.
Mrs Trachy organised a petition in early 1924 calling for women who were able to vote to be allowed to sit in the States as deputies, which attracted 671 signatures. Another petition called for “women be granted full civil and political rights as now enjoyed by women in Great Britain and Guernsey”. On 21st March 1924 the Assembly agreed that women who were British subjects and aged over 30 could stand for election as Deputies. However, there was a further problem. Women had to be “sui juris”, which meant that their property affairs had to be separate from those of their husband.
The voting age for women was lowered to 21 in 1930 but there remained differences between men and women in terms of the property qualification for voting. Only in 1945 were men and women permitted to vote in Jersey on an equal basis.
All of the members of the States were men until 1948 when Ivy Forster became the first woman to be elected to the Assembly.
- 344 men have sat in the States Assembly
- 45 women have sat in the States Assembly
Today, 29% of the members of the 2019 States Assembly are women. There are 49 seats for elected members in the States and 14 States members are women. The proportion is lower than in most other democracies.
A women topped the poll in the 2018 Senatorial election, but there is still a long way to go before women and men have equal representation in Jersey’s politics.
10 April 1919
Draft law to enable women over 30 to vote was intrduced to the States
22 May 1919
The draft law was passed
12 July 1919
The law giving women aged 30 and over the right to vote came into force
The States voted 18 to 13 against setting the voting age for women at 21
Caroline Trachy attempted to stand for election but was prevented as it was illegal for women to sit in the States
9 April 1923
The Women’s Jersey Political Union was established by Caroline Trachy which aimed to obtain “full political and civil rights for women in Jersey, embracing legal and moral support to women in difficulties caused by present, unjust laws”
17 August 1923
A General Petition was signed by asking “for the granting to women of full civil and political rights now enjoyed by the women of Great Britain”
21 March 1924
The States agreed that women who were British subjects and aged over 30 could stand for election as Deputies if their property affairs were separate from those of their husband
The voting age for women was lowered to 21 but there remained differences between men and women in terms of the property qualification for voting
Men and women permitted to vote in Jersey on an equal basis
Ivy Forster became the first woman to be elected to the States Assembly