Today in History
25.5.1907: Women in the Finnish parliament
This was not just unique in Finland, but also throughout Europe. The Finnish women were the first to attain the right to vote and eligibility to stand for election at a state level -- much to their own surprise. One of the members of parliament later wrote in her memoirs of how astonished she was that she, as an “uncivilized” woman of an “uncivilized” country, had attained a right that was still withheld from so many women in so called "civilized" countries.

The unusually large number of working women in the country is a significant factor when considering the question why the Finnish women had attained the right to vote and eligibility to stand for election.

In 1907, approximately 65% of women above the age of 15 were working in this small country with just three million inhabitants. The Finnish feminist movement was launched in the 1880s, supported by middle-class intellectuals who were also stimulated by the plays of Strindberg and Ibsen, which dealt with the discriminatory treatment of women.

The feminist movement was initially an educational movement. The first requests were for better education and training for women, free choice of their profession or trade and access to grammar schools and universities. However, the demand for political rights followed soon after. Women believed they could only represent their interests properly through politics.

The debates with respect to the right to vote for women ran along the same lines in Finland as they did in the other European countries. The opponents of the right to vote for women feared the fairer sex would become more masculine. Woman who were educated, or participated in management, were supposedly no longer feminine and lovable. True women, so they reasoned, did not want to vote and only masculine women demanded this form of activity.

However, these types of “arguments” could not stand up to close examination for long. It was too obvious that “man” could no longer refuse women the right to represent their interests, without fundamentally violating the principle of equality.

In 1906, Finland became the first European state to pass a law stipulating the right to vote and eligibility to stand for election for all male and female citizens over the age of 24. In March 1907, the first elections with female participation took place and on May 25, 1907, the first 19 female members of parliament took their seats alongside their male colleagues.

Throughout Europe as a whole, a long period of time passed before the other states followed Finland’s example. The majority of countries only granted women the right to vote following the First World War. Surprisingly, one of the last countries to do so was France. The French did not permit women to enter the voting booths until 1944 and the last country to do so in Europe was Switzerland in 1971.
Zitat des Tages
Zitat des Tages
An unusual spectacle presented itself to the 181 men in Finland’s parliament on 25 May 1907. What was it?
  Women took their seats for the first time.
  The speaker proclaimed women’s voting rights.
  A woman became prime minister for the first time.