Taking the 1919/1921 constitutional reform as a starting point, this paper examines how social democratic women used the enactment of universal suffrage as an argument to gain support for a Social Democratic Women’s Federation, funded in 1920 and replacing a looser network of local organizations. The paper also provides an ... (Show more)
Taking the 1919/1921 constitutional reform as a starting point, this paper examines how social democratic women used the enactment of universal suffrage as an argument to gain support for a Social Democratic Women’s Federation, funded in 1920 and replacing a looser network of local organizations. The paper also provides an analysis of to what extent the Federation used direct (personal) and indirect (media) channels for voter communication, and how potential female voters were addressed in written campaign material.
Drawing on previous studies pointing out that both scarce economic resources and a lack of time for political work among its members were challenges for the social democratic women’s movement, this study shows that indirect channels were used in the run-up to the local elections in March 1919 due to a lack of both funding and available speakers. During 1920, speaking tours were however arranged in cooperation with local and regional organizations within the Social Democratic Labour Party. Contributions from the party and the Trade Union Confederation made it possible to organize more tours in the spring of 1921.
Female speakers became sought-after, since they were seen as particularly apt at addressing female voters. In order to illustrate this, the extensive travels of Nelly Thüring (1875–1972), a photographer based in Gothenburg who eventually became one of the first female MP:s, are examined in-depth. During the year preceding the parliamentary elections in September 1921 she held over 300 meetings. In a pamphlet published by the Federation, Thüring addressed women in general, emphasizing their new societal responsibilities in the democratic era. The four flyers published by the Federation closer to the election rather address particular categories of women – mainly self-providing, unionized women or women as mothers. Epithets emphasizing a working class identity were also commonly used, in parallel with broader categorizations that can be linked to attempts to enlarge the party’s election base.
The paper contributes with new knowledge about the active participation of female speakers and organizers in Swedish election campaigns. Building on previous studies about the Social Democratic Labour Party’s attitude towards women’s separate organizing, the paper highlights how fears of losing the election because of a low turnout among women created room for maneuver – and at the same time produced recurrent remarks that women’s right to vote also meant a duty to vote. (Show less)