February 7, 1971: Women in Switzerland are given the right to vote. The struggle began centuries earlier. The history of women’s suffrage has been sketchy and sporadic. In some regions, women got the vote before universal suffrage was enacted so women of the upper classes were voting before men or women of the lower classes. In some areas, women were granted the right to vote only to have the right rescinded at a later date.
The first voting women were female taxpaying guild members living in Sweden in 1718. Forty years later they lost their voting privileges. The 19th century was a time of sweeping change and many large and small nations began to permit women in the polling areas. Sometimes, women were granted the vote only in local elections. The move was toward giving women the right to a say in their governance. By the 20th century’s end, most nations that held elections had all adults voting, but still some countries kept women out of the voting booths. There are still countries without elections or with them, but not universal suffrage.
The women of Zurich presented a petition to authorities in 1886 asking they be given a voice. They were silenced. In 1893, the Swiss Association of Female Works again asked for the right to vote and was again denied. More unions and women’s groups banded together, raising their voices in cries for equality. During a general strike in 1918, women’s suffrage was a central demand. Swiss Parliament instructed the government “to prepare the introduction of women’s right to vote.” It took decades to find the manpower for this job.
After the Second World War, women who had kept the economy going during the previous years felt empowered enough to again demand the right to vote, without effect. During the Cold War, with fear of Communists invading the country mounting, women were pressed into service as air-raid wardens, but were still too irresponsible to be given the vote. In 1962, Switzerland wanted to join the European Council, but did not meet standards – universal suffrage. On this date, with a vote of 66% yes and 34% no, women received the vote. However, there were still cantons with a “no” majority. It wasn’t until 1985 that a referendum to the Constitution was added giving equal rights to women.
“I think it’s about time we voted for senators with breasts. After all, we’ve been voting for boobs long enough.” – Claire Sargent
“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.” – John Quincy Adams
“People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote – a very different thing.” – Walter H. Judd
“Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.” – George Jean Nathan
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2010. Editor’s update: Having a say in one’s government is prized by many. There are several different types of voting rights. Universal suffrage means that voting is not restricted by sex, race, social status, or wealth. However, there still are restrictions and these usually are that of citizenship, age, mental capacity, and criminal records. More women around the world are now able to vote but there are still places where they are not included. There is something called “censitary suffrage” which means that although more people can vote, the votes themselves are not counted as equal. There are places with compulsory suffrage where those eligible to vote, MUST vote. There are also exclusions based on religion in certain regions and much more prevalent in times past. A say in governance seems to be more pervasive today than long ago, but the right is not yet universal.
Also on this day: Pluto v. Neptune – In 1979, Pluto moved inside Neptune’s orbit.
The Little Tramp – In 1914, Charlie Chaplin first plays The Little Tramp in the Kid Auto Races at Venice.
Mud March – In 1907, the Mud March took place in London.