English and American Women in Politics

A 1922 New York Times Magazine column surmised reasons why women had earned a higher share of political seats in the U.K. than the U.S. The same discrepancy holds true today, with women comprising larger shares of Parliament than Congress.

In 1922, women had only recently gained the right to vote in both countries: in 1918 for the U.K. and in 1920 for the U.S. So in terms of political rights, the situation was comparable. In terms of political representation, though, the U.K. had a higher female percentage.

Why? In a column, U.S. women’s rights advocate Anne Martin speculated that it was largely because of societal differences:

English women are showing a flair, a talent for politics that American women have not yet developed. They are forging ahead of us in the use they are making of the vote to win direct participation in government.

It is natural that this should be so. English “culture” is different from American. Politics consciously forms part of the fibre [sic] of daily life. Men and women of the upper classes, at any rate, for generations have discussed politics on more or less equal terms, and with understanding authority.

Martin went on to explain that, before either had won the right to vote, British women often took a much more direct role in political campaigns than did American women:

Unlike the United States, where women and the home have until recently been almost completely separated from “politics,” in England they have for generations, though unenfranchised, taken a very active part in political campaigns. As members of their Primrose Leagues, their Conservative and Liberal clubs, they went right out into the constituencies as canvassers or organizers, and on to the stump as speakers, working for the election to their husbands and friends to Parliament.

The two leading women’s political organizations in the United States, since the vote was won in 1920, have confined their work to welfare and equality legislation.

Today, the U.S. versus U.K. discrepancy continues.

In the lower chamber of the legislative branch: women comprise 27% of the U.S. House of Representatives, versus 35% in the U.K. House of Commons.

Same discrepancy in the upper house of the legislative branch: women comprise 24% of the U.S. Senate, versus 28% in the U.K. House of Lords.

English and American Women in Politics

Published: Sunday, November 5, 1922

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