Kvinnestemmeretten i Horten og de andre Vestfoldbyene. Mediedekning og organisasjonsarbeid
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In 1913 all Norwegian women acquired the right to vote at political and local elections. Then they had fought for many years to be recognized as citizens. My dissertation is about Norwegian women’s labour for suffrage on a local level. My research is related to the five towns in Vestfold, a small county in the East of Norway. My topic is women’s political engagement and the newspapers‘depiction of the women’s struggle for the right to vote in Vestfold between 1890 and 1913. In my opinion the local newspapers are important sources for understanding the changes in attitudes that concerns the suffrage for women in a local society. I have chosen 15 annuals from newspapers covering the five towns in the county of Vestfold from the period 1890 to 1913, because they reflect the most crucial national and local changes that occurred in this period that influenced the understanding of a woman’s role in society. I believe that by closely examining the chosen annuals from all the local newspapers in Vestfold from this period, I get both valid and accurate knowledge about the way in which newspapers present their information about the women’s suffrage. Besides the material is a great source for understanding the women’s engagement in their struggle for the right to vote. I believe that the newspapers were building a public opinion in the local society and were contributing strongly to the change of understanding and acceptance of the role of the woman in society. But also by choosing to ignore these changes towards a new role, the newspapers spread attitudes. To a large extent many of the conservative newspapers chose to be silent about the women’s movement and the suggestions about giving women the right to vote that were debated in Norwegian National Assembly – Stortinget. The lack of coverage can be just as powerful as the choice to include information. At the end of the 19th century the old structure in society met a new one. New thoughts about democracy and about a more liberal publicity created a contrast to the idea of a more limited democracy and closed and selective publicity. The struggle for political vote for women was a struggle for citizenship and equality, and as time went by it became a struggle to get the status of citizenship incorporated for all women so that a common female identity that included all aspects of the role of the citizen, could develop. Horten is a small town in the county of Vestfold in the South-Eastern part of Norway. It was the base of the naval marine in Norway, and it was in many ways a conservative town with all the naval officers and their wives and families travelling through. The socioeconomic classes were strictly separated. In Horten we can observe the growth of the acceptance of democracy and equality in the period of 1890 to 1913. Women joined together to cooperate and create a common cause, and friendship, loyalties and solidarity made them safer and more selfconfident. Women fighting for liberation met many obstacles in a small society and it could be quite painful to deal with a lot of them. They were exposed to criticism and contempt because they dared to challenge the traditional views on gender roles. But slowly a common sense of female identity developed, and this identity included women with different values and priorities. They were kept together by the struggle for the common goal, the acceptance of the female citizen. This process of democratization needed people that had the ability to create engagement and interest, and one of these persons was Marie Høeg in Horten. In 1896 she founded the Club of Discussion and two years later the Club for Women’s Suffrage. The purpose of the discussion club was to gather women for discussion about subjects pertaining to women, but also to give women self-confidence and strengthen the belief that they would manage to talk in an assembly. In many ways the discussion club was a covert feministic association as it was not suitable for the wives of the officers to join a club that was occupied with feministic values of feminism. The women had to hide their intention. But the Club for Women’s Suffrage had an open purpose, the members wanted to work for female suffrage. But both clubs wanted to make the women in Horten aware of the new elements in regards to the role of the woman in society. Clubs for Women’s Suffrage were founded in all the other towns in Vestfold – Tønsberg, Sandefjord, Larvik and Holmestrand. Recent research shows that the unmarried women were overrepresented in the work for women’s liberation in Norway. Unmarried women from the middleclass, the old maids, were a group with influence who met much cultural opposition. The organisations for women were important for the so-called “spinster culture”. They saw new possibilities for work and education. I find that in Horten it was often the spinsters that initiated clubs and organisations, but after a few years the married women were in majority in the clubs. It looks as if the unmarried women to a certain extend retired then, and left the struggle for equal rights to their married sisters. But especially when it comes to the work for the right to vote, the spinster’s effort and eager carried the idea through. The clubs were in many ways the glue in the unmarried women’s lives. The memberships in clubs and organisations represented friendships and a spirit of female community.The Suffrage Clubs clearly wanted to have a non-political profile, they wished to unite as many women as possible regardless of political view. I 1907 some women acquired the political vote, and the political consciousness of the members grew, with more and more women wanting to participate in political life. The women achieved the right to vote, and they were intending to use it. The club worked to make the women able to be fully functioning citizens and to dare to be a political people. It was a paradox then that the club was supposed to be non-political. As time went by many of the members of the club became members of political parties and eventually engaged in politics too. Was it possible then, under such circumstance to keep party politics outside the club? The women did not belong to the same political party, and the club had to accept the fact that their members had different political views and values, and the board of the club worked hard to keep the discussions at the meetings neutral in terms of party politics. How important was the contribution of the individual in the local society? The clubs were open for everyone, but some women played more important parts than others in the struggle for the acceptance of the women’s right to political vote. I find that in all the towns there were female leaders who were extremely occupied with the cause of liberation for women. Some of them were more important than others however, and widened their influence and engagement from the local society to the other towns and even to the country as a whole. They were gateways for the feminists in Vestfold to the civil publicity, they were verbal, good at expressing themselves both orally and in writing and had a strong interest in the question of suffrage for women. They created around them a lot of women in a social network.. The middleclass-women in Vestfold were engaged in the suffrage-question, but their discussions, their speeches and their letters to the newspapers show that to av large extend they believed in a difference between the sexes. Women deserved the right to vote, but they would represent something different from what men did in politics. They fought for equality, but not similarity. Politics would benefit from female participation because it would be different from what men could offer. Womens’ political engagement was often within the field of caring for the poor, children, old and sick people. Women allowed into the public sphere connected to their traditional field of activity. Women enlarged their homely female tasks to society as a whole. But nevertheless the right to vote became an important indicator of modernism as female suffrage was one step further in the process of democratization.
PublisherThe University of Bergen
- History 296