Many of us today simply couldn’t imagine women not being allowed to vote, when Saudi Arabia only just gave women the right to vote in 2015, people felt outraged that this was still an issue to be discussed at all. Although on a state level, states in the US like Wyoming and Colorado allowed women to vote since 1869 and 1893 respectively, and the state of South Australia in 1901; it may come as a surprise for many of you, that the first self-governing country to give women parliamentary suffrage (the right to vote in national elections) was neither the US nor any European country, but in fact New Zealand in 1893.
Definitely one of the earliest feminists, Kate Sheppard, who’s face now features on New Zealand’s $10 banknote, did an amazing thing. In the days before television, never mind the internet, mediums through which one can gain the support of thousands relatively quickly, Sheppard led a campaign ad collected the signatures of nearly one-quarter of the adult female population in a petition for the right to vote in parliamentary elections. And she succeeds, even though women will have to wait until 1919 for the right to run for office as well. In 1906, Finland becomes the first country to allow women not only to vote, but also to run for office, meaning that it is the first country to really obtain genuine democracy. This is thanks to the fact that Finland was less urbanized and industrialized, meaning that Finnish men and women shared equal work on farms, with even the upper classes needing their women to work in some capacity. Finland was also the first country to elect a woman for office in 1907.
In 1908, Australia and its’ colonies also give women the right to vote, by collecting over 11,600 signatures on a petition measuring roughly 400 feet long when all the pages were glued together end to end. However, unlike New Zealand, aborigines, both men and women, were still excluded from this right until 1962. Feminist activist, Gina Krog in Norway helped bring about a law that came into effect in 1901 which gave some women suffrage, on the condition that they or their husbands paid enough taxes. In 1907 another law was passed which extended the right to more women, in 1911 Norway becomes the second country to elect a woman, and in 1913 Norway finally also achieves universal suffrage. Denmark is next to give women full suffrage in 1915, with Russia following suit in 1917.
In Russia the provisional government printed their plans in the newspapers with no discussion regarding women’s suffrage; an act that so enraged women across the country that 40,000 women gathered to march through the streets of St. Petersburg, with two orchestras and some women dressed like Amazon warriors, demanding negotiations which led to meetings late into the night, finally securing women the right to vote. That gathering in St. Petersburg led to four Lithuanian suffragettes to go back to Lithuania and help secure Lithuanian women the right to vote in 1918. The history of women’s suffrage is really incredible, with so many trailblazing women (and some men) who, before the term ‘feminism’ that so many are afraid of came about, made it their mission to get women (roughly 50% of every population) the equal right to vote, to have their voice heard, and to take part in determining the future of their society.