Women of all classes and social status voted 75 years prior to the Parliamentary franchise to officially give women the vote. Those include women who were property owners and owned businesses as well, but we were told women weren't allowed to do that?
Here's The Telegraph's report on it:
"A new document has surfaced which shows British women, of all classes, voting in 1843, some 75 years before they received the parliamentary franchise in 1918. History professor, Sarah Richardson, explains what this discovery means and how it was possible.
The document in question was a poll book for the election to the local office of Assistant Overseer of the Poor, in the parish of St Chad’s, Lichfield in 1843. I was tipped off about its existence by a friend, Philip Salmon of the History of Parliament. It was a schedule of voters, their addresses, the rates they paid and how they voted. But as I looked down the list of names, some immediately jumped off the page: Elizabeth Shorthouse, Hannah Holiman, Phoebe Skelton, Ann Mallett… In all, there were thirty women playing an active role in the election.
Although I knew that in theory women retained the right to vote for some local officials in the nineteenth century, I had never seen any evidence of them doing so in practice. This lack of evidence had led me, and many other historians, to assume that voting was entirely a male prerogative before the twentieth century.
The record was compiled because the solicitors were the agents for the Conservative party in Lichfield. The town was a highly marginal constituency in this period, so the party clearly wanted to keep tabs on the political temperature between parliamentary elections. The solicitor would have compiled the poll book from the ballot papers returned by the voters.
In the period before the secret ballot, everyone was entitled to know how people voted. It was unusual to have an election for an Assistant Overseer. This was a powerful post responsible for collecting poor rates and deciding how they were allocated. But the overseers were usually appointed to avoid the expense of an election. All heads of households, paying rates were entitled to vote. This was a very wide franchise, and one that included single and widowed women.
My assumption was that the women would be of genteel status. But as I checked their names against the 1841 census return, I was surprised to see the diversity of the group of voters. There were a few women of independent means, owning property and land. There were also women, probably widows, who had inherited their husbands’ businesses. So, for example, the wealthiest female elector on the roll was Grace Brown, a butcher, who managed a large household including several servants.
Due to the high rates that she paid, Grace was entitled to four votes in the election, which she cast in favour of the Conservative candidate. But I was amazed to see many women on the list who were far lower down the social scale including the laundress, Caroline Edge, the servant, Sarah Payne and even paupers, including Sarah Batkin of Stowe Street.
The poll book is all that remains of an unremarkable local parish election in a comfortable Midlands market town in the mid nineteenth century. Yet, it has prompted a need to re-write the history books by providing the first substantial proof that women were able to vote long before they received the parliamentary or municipal franchise"