These four quotations from four different centuries are each concerned with the relationship between women and parliament, the epicentre of political power in the British state. All respond to direct or indirect suggestions that women might participate in the political life of the nation by voting for and serving in Parliament by suggesting that such activity is in some way unsuited to them. The Lawes Resolutions of Women’s Rights was a legal textbook published some time after the reign of Elizabeth I had provoked discussions about how much political power women could exercise. The second quotation emerged from an eighteenth-century public debating society as members considered whether women might vote or sit in a democratised parliament. Gladstone’s response to Samuel Smith reflected a growing interest in the question of women’s suffrage in the late nineteenth century, and Sir Hedworth Meux was voicing his opposition to the bill that would allow women to become MPs in the early twentieth century. The time that elapsed between each quotation shows that women’s place in national politics has been a recurrent theme in British history, both within Parliament and beyond it in the realm of print and debate, where public opinion is formed. Discussions of women’s relationship to politics are as old as discussions of politics itself.
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