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ECPR Standing Group on the European Union 10th Biennial Conference LUISS, Rome

A Vote for One’s Own? The Suffrage Claim as a Question of Class and Gender Relations in the Early Women’s Movement

Social Movements
Comparative Perspective
Jana Günther
University of Aplied Science Darmstadt
Jana Günther
University of Aplied Science Darmstadt

“Votes for Women” was one of the most important claims in European Women’s Movements, which advanced to a powerful image of women’s liberation. Visionary thinkers of the European Enlightenment – like Olympe the Gouge, Mary Wollstonecraft or Gottfried Hippel – had pointed out the scandalous exclusion of women from civil rights through the political transformation after the French Revolution in Europe. Soon after political activists mobilized for Women’s emancipation and equal political rights, women’s suffrage symbolised for many feminists the full recognition of citizenship with all rights and obligations.

This Paper takes a deeper empirical view in the relations of the (early) German and British women’s movement and shows some limits of this universal idea: The claim for ‘the Vote’ was not only addressed to patriarchal national systems, which systematically excluded women from the public sphere of political affairs. It was itself a battlefield of unequal power distributions. In many national movements, main organizations and influential leaders of the suffrage campaign demanded only a limited vote to the same conditions as men. Furthermore, the demand not included working class women and ignored the exclusion of working class men as well. This discrepancy forced heated debates at the international gatherings of Women’s Movement Organizations.

The profound impact of gender and class relations in the struggle for the vote is apparent in the German and British women’s movement. This perspective explains different outcomes of the suffrage campaign in both countries after World War I and shows the importance of representation in social movements itself.
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