12 November 2018 marks the 100th year of women’s right to vote in Germany. During the late 18th and early 19th century women’s struggle to be recognized as equals has resulted in many protests, rallies, meetings as well as magazines and manifestos to be published. Thus, women in Germany were first able to vote during the transition period from imperial rule to the Weimar Republic in 1919. If you want to know more about how this came to be and who were the ones that paved the way for the women’s right to vote in Germany read our post!
The global and most important struggle for women was the right to get the same education as men. Because the only education women were deemed worthy was on how to be a good housewife and mother. But of course, they wanted more than that. It was becoming more obvious that women could study and learn things other than cross stich, or even form their own political opinions. In 1879, August Bebel’s book titled “The Woman and Socialism” caused a great stir in Germany. It mentioned women’s position in past, the legal status of women as well as the role they will play in society’s future.
Later on, the first political party that mentioned women’s suffrage was the SPD in 1891, of course it would take a bit more time until women eventually earn the right to vote.
(The SDP poster-Design Fritz Gottfried Kirchbach [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
In the meantime, women’s political battle continued. Thanks to a proposal by Clara Zetkin – an activist who especially stood up for the rights of female workers, the first International Women’s day was celebrated in 8 March 1911. It was a chance to speak up women’s demands; with the same goal in mind she founded Die Gleichheit (Equality) magazine.
The poster below by Karl Maria Stadler calls women to gather on March 8, 1914 for Women’s Day. The text says: “Give Us Women’s Suffrage. Women’s Day, March 8, 1914. Until now, prejudice and reactionary attitudes have denied full civic rights to women, who as workers, mothers, and citizens wholly fulfil their duty, who must pay their taxes to the state as well as the municipality. / Fighting for this natural human right must be the firm, unwavering intention of every woman, every female worker. In this, no pause for rest, no respite is allowed. Come all, you women and girls, to the 9th public women’s assembly on Sunday, March 8, 1914, at 3pm.”
(© Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz )
Success and Hope for Future
The women’s movement had gained a huge momentum. In October 1918, more than 50 women’s organizations had asked Chancellor Max von Baden to for the right to vote, in November, the Electoral Law of the Empire (Reichswahlgesetz) entered into force and provided for universal suffrage to all German citizens. With the law in effect, in the elections to the National Assembly held on 19 January 1919, 82 percent of eligible women cast their vote. Following that election, 37 of the total 423 elected deputies were women.
However, just after over a decade, the voting rights of the women were jeopardised when the National Socialists took over in 1933. As Maja Beisenherz remarks in her article, during that time “female suffrage was restricted, and women were not allowed to be part of the party’s executive committee. From 1933, women’s rights were further restricted, and they were removed from senior positions.” The situation was reversed in 1949, declaring men and women are equal in German Constitutional Law.
Vote and be Voted For
Women sure have made considerable gains compared to 1918. However, the inequality persists in gender pay gap, society and daily ordeals women endure. Thus, everyone, especially women whose foremothers fought so hard for these rights should exercise their right to vote and celebrate their opportunity to make their voice heard.