The 20th century saw far-reaching change in many aspects of women's lives. Women were 'emancipated', gaining new legal and political rights together with more economic and social status. The first half of the century saw women's legal and political rights 'evened up' with men's, although by 1950 many inequalities remained.
The most important political right won by women was the right to vote. This was given to women over 30 in 1918 and women over 21 (the same age as the male franchise) in 1928. The change was associated with the campaigns of the militant suffragettes, and the non-militant suffragists who lobbied for change more peaceably. The first women Member of Parliament was Nancy Astor, who was elected in 1919. The first woman to enter the cabinet was Margaret Bondfield, who became a cabinet minister in 1929.
Women were already playing a part in local government politics. In London, women were involved with the London County Council (L.C.C). In 1909, Jesse Wilston Phipps became the first woman to chair a council sub-committee. By 1925, the L.C.C. had 25 women members.
A succession of acts in the 1920s brought women more legal equality with men. The Sex Disqualification Act of 1919 removed the 'gender bar' in certain professions. The first woman Justice of the Peace was appointed in 1920, and in 1922 Ivy William became the first woman to be called to the bar. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1923 enabled women to initiate divorce proceedings on the same grounds as men. The New English Law of Property in 1926 confirmed the rights of women, whether married or single, to own property. Inequalities remained, particularly for married women who still encountered the 'marriage bar' in certain professions.
Dress and behaviour
The change in women's rights was reflected in dress. Between 1900 and 1950, women's clothes became more practical. Hemlines rose, hair was often cut short, and some women began to wear trousers. Women were seen in public more often and, to the disapproval of some, they began to smoke, wear make-up, and go to the cinema on their own. Many welcomed the change, however, seeing the new freedoms for women a sign of a healthier society.
Firms that saw a potential new market also welcomed the changes. Cigarette manufacturers launched new brands targeted at women. The London tobacco firm Aardath launched 'Eve' cigarettes in 1922. 'Eve' was also the name chosen for a new illustrated magazine for women, launched in 1919.
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