The term women’s suffrage refers to the economic and political reform movement aimed at extending suffrage, that is, the right to vote, to women.
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Early history – 19th century movements
The struggle to achieve equal rights for women is often thought to have begun, in the English-speaking world, with the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). During the 19th century, as male suffrage was gradually extended in many countries, women became increasingly active in the quest for their own suffrage. Not until 1893, however, in New Zealand, did women achieve suffrage on the national level. Australia followed in 1902, but American, British, and Canadian women did not win the same rights until the end of World War I.
In Great Britain the cause began to attract attention when the philosopher John Stuart Mill presented a petition in Parliament calling for inclusion of women’s suffrage in the Reform Act of 1867. In the same year Lydia Becker (1827 –90) founded the first women’s suffrage committee, in Manchester. Other committees were quickly formed, and in 1897 they united as the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, with Millicent Garret Fawcett (1847 –1929) as president.
Suffrage in the 20th century
Scandinavian countries such as Finland (1906), Norway (1913), and Denmark and Iceland (1915) granted women the vote early in the 20th century. New Zealand (1893) and Australia (1902) granted women the vote earlier than United Kingdom (1918) The next wave occured at the end of World War I. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Netherlands granted suffrage in 1917; Austria , Czechoslovakia, Poland , and Sweden in 1918; and Germany and Luxembourg in 1919. Spain extended the ballot to women in 1931, but France in 1944 and Belgium , Italy , Romania , and Yugoslavia in 1946. Switzerland gave women the vote in 1971, and women were given the right to vote in Liechtenstein in 1984.
Countries without women’s suffrage
- Brunei — Women (and men) have been denied the right to vote or to stand for election since 1962.
- Lebanon — Partial suffrage. Proof of elementary education is required for women but not for men. Voting is compulsory for men but optional for women.
- Saudi Arabia — No suffrage for women. The first local elections ever held in the country occurred in 2005. Women were not given the right to vote or to stand for election, although suffrage may be granted by 2009.
- the United Arab Emirates — Limited, but it will be fully expanded by 2010.
- Women’s suffrage is more common in UK English, and woman suffrage is more common in US English, as shown by entries in UK and US dictionaries, which usually record only one of these forms, e.g. Collins, New Oxford, American Heritage, Random House, Merriam-Webster. Similarly, the US encyclopedias Encyclopedia Britannica (despite its name a US encyclopedia) and Collier Encyclopedia use only woman suffrage.
- DuBois, Ellen Carol, Harriot Stanton Blatch and the Winning of Woman Suffrage (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997) ISBN 0-300-06562-0
- Flexner, Eleanor, Century of Struggle: The Woman’s Rights Movement in the United States, enlarged edition with Foreword by Ellen Fitzpatrick (1959, 1975; Cambridge and London: The Belknap Press of the Harvard University Press, 1996) ISBN 0-674-10653-9
- Kenney, Annie, Memories of a Militant’ (London: Edwin Arnold, 1924)
- Lloyd, Trevor, Suffragettes International: The Worldwide Campaign for Women’s Rights (New York: American Heritage Press, 1971).
- Mackenzie, Midge, Shoulder to Shoulder: A Documentary (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975). ISBN 0-394-73070-4
- Raeburn, Antonia, Militant Suffragettes (London: New English Library, 1973)
- Stevens, Doris, edited by Carol O’Hare, Jailed for Freedom: American Women Win the Vote (1920; Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 1995). ISBN 0-939165-25-2
- Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill, editor, One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement (Troutdale, OR: NewSage Press, 1995) ISBN 0-939165-26-0