Robert Lee writes that the Finns were 20 years ahead of Britain in establishing universal suffrage for men and women; Harry Galbraith says that the Isle of Man granted votes for women as early as 1881; while John Hurdley writes that his suffragette grandmother would not want to be pardoned. Plus letters from Pam Lunn, Ian Bullock and Meg HowarthDespite the fact that universal suffrage was only introduced much later, in 1928 (Which branch of feminism won women the vote? We all did, 6 February), the focus has been largely on Britain and its colonies. Perhaps the prospect of Brexit, the most devastating blow to Britain’s international standing and the welfare of its people for many decades, has reinforced our persistent isolationism and precluded any analysis of what was happening elsewhere, specifically in continental Europe. Everywhere the struggle for women’s suffrage was a challenge to the gendered meaning of political citizenship, but it was in Finland in 1906 that general suffrage was first established for men and women. In the elections to the new unicameral parliament (Eduskanta) in 1907, 19 women MPs were elected. Finland, at that time, was still a grand duchy within the Russian empire, with limited industrial development. Why did it take Britain over 20 years to achieve the same objective? What does it say about the conservative and patriarchal attitudes of the aristocracy and most upper-middle-class men? Are there not still important lessons to be learned from continental Europe in terms of gender equality as a means of addressing the relative backwardness of the British state?
Emeritus Professor Robert Lee
• As a Guardian subscriber and a Manxman I am used to seeing the Isle of Man portrayed in a critical light in your pages, particularly where taxation or motorcycle racing are concerned. It came as no surprise, therefore, when I read the letter from Mike Gavin (7 February) saying that the 1918 Representation of the People Act recognised for the first time the principle of universal suffrage. In the 1881 Election Act passed by Tynwald, the Manx parliament, its votes for women preceded the Westminster act by 37 years. Not too bad for such a backward, inward-looking place.
Peel, Isle of Man
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