Women magistrates, ministers and municipal councillors in the West Riding of Yorkshire, 1918-1939
In the two decades after the partial enfranchisement of women in 1918 and the removal of legal disabilities which excluded them from the magistracy, women in the West Riding of Yorkshire were mobilized to seek a new civic role as councillors and as justices of the peace through membership of women's organisations, of the women's sections of political parties and to a lesser extent as a consequence of their widespread involvement in charity work. By the post-war period, too, traditional arguments against the ordination of women in the Free Churches had lost credibility and a number of women became church ministers in the strongly Nonconformist West Riding. Women magistrates were rapidly accepted on equal terms and from the start shared duties equally with their male colleagues. Ordination of women in the Free Churches was premissed on the principle of complementarity and, although usually obliged to accept the less desirable churches, women ministers experienced little hostility. The majority of women councillors, however, justified the need for their election on the grounds of the distinctive contribution that women could make to local government. By identifying only certain issues on which women's views should be sought and concentrating on areas of local government which only affected the lives of women and children their contribution was seen to be limited. Individual women's influence over their appointment as magistrates was minimal and their numbers remained low primarily because local advisory committees failed to adopt progressive criteria for their recommendations. Traditional attitudes were still too deeply entrenched to allow many women to seek ordination and it was the identification of a limited role for women, together with social, cultural and economic factors, which militated against any significant increase in their representation on local councils in the West Riding throughout the period.