Women’s Suffrage

The right of women to take part in political life and to vote in an election. Women’s suffrage was advocated by Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), and throughout the 19th century, in Britain and the United States, calls were made for voting rights for women. These were first attained at the national level in New Zealand (1893). The state of Wyoming in the United States introduced women’s suffrage in 1869 and by 1920 all women over 21 were given the vote in the United States. The first European nation to grant female suffrage was Finland in 1906, with Norway following in 1913, and Germany in 1919. In Britain, as a result of agitation by the Women’s Political and Social Union, led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel, the vote was granted in 1918 to those over 30 and in 1928 to women over 21. In the years following World War I, women were granted the vote in many countries, including Germany, Poland, Austria, and Sweden (1919), and the United States (1920). The Roman Catholic Church was reluctant to support women’s suffrage and in many Catholic countries it was not gained until after World War II; in France it was granted in in 1944, in Belgium in 1948, while in Switzerland not until 1971. In Russia women gained the right to vote with the Revolution (1917), and women’s suffrage was extended to the Soviet Union from 1922. In developing countries, women’s suffrage was usually obtained with independence, and in most Muslim countries women now have the vote. Women still do not have the vote in certain absolute monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia.”

Excerpted from: Wright, Edmund, Ed. The Oxford Desk Encyclopedia of World History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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