On this day in history : 26th November 1867 – Mrs Lily Maxwell of Manchester becomes the first ever woman to vote in a British election, due to an error on the list of registered voters….

Lily Maxwell – Public domain

Scottish born Lily had a shop in Chorlton-upon-Medlock, Manchester – where she sold a variety of household items including candles and crockery…. She was not always as honest as she should have been – and was even once fined £1 by the courts for diddling her customers with short-comings in weights and measures…

As a shop owner Lily was obliged to pay rates to the local council…. When the 1867 by-election for a local MP came around Lily, as a woman, was not entitled to vote – whereas all male rate payers were…. Somehow Lily’s name got on to the list of these entitled men….

Early suffragette Lydia Becker came to hear of this and urged Lily to use her vote…. Lily agreed, as she was a keen supporter of Liberal candidate Jacob Bright, who advocated Women’s Suffrage and was a campaigner for peace….

Portrait of Lydia Becker by Dacre, Susan Isabel; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/lydia-becker-204800

When voting day arrived Lily, accompanied by Lydia, arrived at the town hall to cast her vote…. Bearing in mind in those days it was not a secret ballot – she had to announce loud and clear to all present who she wished to vote for…. She caused quite a commotion amongst the crowd – but as her name was on the list the presiding officer had no choice but to record her vote…. The room exploded with cheers for the first British woman voter….

More than 5,000 women then applied to have their names added to the electoral registers and on the 2nd of November 1868 the case for these claims came before the Court of Common Pleas…. However, it was ruled that women could not vote in British elections and Women’s Suffrage was declared illegal….

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