The Women's Liberal Federation (WLF) was formed on the initiative of Sophia Fry, who in 1886 called a meeting at her house of fifteen local Women's Liberal Associations. The establishment of a national organisation was agreed, and this occurred in 1887, when members of forty associations met in London. It was reported that the federation membership was about 6,000, but this grew rapidly, reaching 75,000 in 1892. By 1904 there were 494 affiliated associations and a membership of approximately 67,600.
Until 1892, the group was divided between supporters of women's suffrage and those who stated that they were neutral on the matter. That year, William Gladstone wrote a letter opposing votes for women, and the group held a three day debate to establish a firm position. At the close of the debate, delegates votes to support suffrage; this led between 50 and 60 branches which did not support the policy to leave, consisting of 7,000 to 10,000 members. They formed the rival Women's National Liberal Association.
As of 1905, the WLF's objectives included promoting just legislation for women, through the introduction of votes for women at local and parliamentary elections, on the same basis as men.
In 1908 the Women's Liberal Federation invited David Lloyd George to speak at the Royal Albert Hall. The Women's Social and Political Union suspected that Lloyd George was going to make no promises and threatened to disrupt the meeting if he made no substantive commitment to giving votes to women. He didn't and they did. Helen Ogston was notably assaulted as she was evicted. She tried to defend herself with a dog whip and caused a storm in the newspapers. Lloyd George refused to allow women in to his future public events.
In 1988, when the Liberal Party merged with the SDP to form the Liberal Democrats, the WLF was wound up.
President of the Women's Liberal Federation
The WLF President was elected annually, and served for a one-year term.
|1921||1923||The Viscountess Cowdray|
|1923||1925||Violet Bonham Carter|
|1927||1929||Margery Corbett Ashby|
|1936||1938||Megan Lloyd George|
|1938||1939||Viscountess Dorothy Gladstone|
|1939||1945||Violet Bonham Carter|
|1945||1947||Megan Lloyd George|
|1947||1949||Eleanor Layton, Lady Layton|
|1955||19??||Sybil Mary Whitamore|
|by 1961||1962||Heather Harvey|
|1962||1964 or later||Winifred Grubb|
|as of 1965||?||Audrey Malindine|
|by 1966||1968||Gaenor Heathcoat Amory|
- Patricia Hollis, Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government 1865-1914, p.57
- Cowman, Krista (2010). Women in British Politics, c.1689-1979. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0230545571.
- The Liberal Year Book, 1905
- "Fry, Sophia". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/56104. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Patricia Hollis, Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government 1865-1914, p.65
- ""The woman with the whip" - Suffragette Helen Ogston causes an international stir | Royal Albert Hall". Royal Albert Hall. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
- The Liberal Year Book, 1905-1939
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