Women’s Movement in Europe and America

It is essential to understand that every person deserves equal rights and treatment to feel valued and needed. The world is not perfect, and many people are being oppressed by others because of their gender, race, age, or sexual orientation. However, just a few centuries ago, the world was different. Every opportunity belonged to white men that had all the privileges possible. In the nineteenth century, the role of women started to transform. At that moment, the perfect picture of the family was formed, which implied a man as an earner and a woman as a hearth keeper without any payment. Marriage was a necessity for women in terms of financial security. It was almost impossible for a single woman to earn enough money for a living because of the low wages for women. Women did not have the right to vote, divorce, or own property. These circumstances affected and formed movements that battled for women’s dignity and opportunities worldwide. Women’s battle for suffrage and other crucial rights was a long thorny path but it changed their communities and brought them closer to an equal and honest world.

In the nineteenth century, women started to fight for justice regarding their rights. Some gained access to high-quality higher education, especially middle- and upper-middle-class. Other women tried entering professions inherent to men at that moment in history. Teaching was the first gate that opened because of compulsory elementary education development. Many men perceived this occupation as females’ “natural role” of educating children. Women were paid less, which is why it was profitable for the governments to contribute to the development of this field.

The teacher-training schools were the first colleges for females, but from the beginning of the twentieth century, they started to apply to universities for males. For example, in France, the percentage of women students rose from three percent to ten percent in only twelve years when the twentieth century started (Spiegelvogel, 2011, p. 499). The medical field was not as open for females, but the alternative was found in the development of nursing. In working-class families, women often worked complex jobs and taught them to their children. The daughters of such families had to work starting from nine or ten years until marriage to be able to afford average life. That is the reason why women had to get married to be able to have enough money to live.

However, working-class families started to obtain high-paying jobs at the beginning of the twentieth century. That made it possible for women in these families to depend on their husbands’ salaries and the money grown children earned. Moreover, mothers could follow the example of middle-class women and stay at home. People stopped to perceive children as “wage earners because of the child labor laws and compulsory education took children out of the workforce and into schools” (Spiegelvogel, 2011, p. 497). All families, including working-class, middle-class, and richer ones, started to have fewer children.

Middle-class life was different from that of working-class families. Every field shifted its focus to the family as the central institution of life. In addition to suffrage, women sought respect for their choices in different areas, such as work, money, family life, and their social role in general. Women across the world suffered from having no right to own property, have bank accounts and use banking services. Many stereotypes about women’s social role followed them during their lives. They needed to get married to secure their lives because females were paid much less than males. Women justified their demands using different methods in every country. Some of them were more aggressive and drew people’s attention with provocative actions, while others arranged rallies or achieved results calmly and legally. With time, most of the suffrage movements in Europe and the United States became consistent and peaceful because other methods were loud but did not work. As a result, women achieved the right to vote, own real estate, their salaries have been raised, and many other changes happened. However, every country needed different time to change and become more equal towards women.

Women experienced many different challenges and issues during that period, but it is impossible not to mention their struggle for suffrage. The ability to vote was not possible for females until the end of the nineteenth century in many countries, including the United States of America, Germany, France, and Great Britain. In the 1840s and 1850s, the movement for women’s right to vote and equality in rights was initiated. Gender prejudice was at the core of male thinking about women’s rights. Many men thought “women might become ungentle and harsh if they took part in public affairs” (Howe, 1909, p. 1). These stereotypes hindered women from controlling their own lives and having the right to choose how to live. Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1892) said that “it does not matter how much women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men desire to do so, women must make the voyage of life alone” (para. 9). Suffragists had only one goal to live with “full citizenship in the nation-state as women” (Spielvogel, 2011, p. 514). Many thought the right to vote was crucial to improving women’s position in other areas.

The most active suffrage movement in Europe was located in Great Britain. In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters founded the Women’s Social and Political Union. They used unique ways to draw attention to their organization and the issues they raised, such as burning railroad cars, pelting politicians with eggs, and smashing stores’ windows. At the same time, male politics called them “suffragettes” mockingly. With time women started to use peaceful methods to achieve their goals because their performances did not evoke the desired response. This tactic caused ridicule, and aggression among governments but not respect. Even though before World War I, women actively fought for their rights in countries of Europe and the United States, only several American states, Norway, and Finland gave females the right to vote.

However, drastic changes started after the war when governments gave up on this problem. The suffrage movement was accompanied by opposition women that thought differently. The anti-suffrage movement believed that everyone had their own role and significant responsibilities. They stated that “the only effort of both the great divisions of the human family should be to contribute the characteristic labor and the best gifts of each to the common stock” (Ward, 1889, para. 1). However, the suffragists eventually got their right to be full members of society and be able to choose how to live.

The main reason for restrictions on the right to vote for women was in the opinion of people. It was believed that females were not able to think politically because of their financial dependency. Many people stated that women already have political representation through their husbands. The Frankfurt Constitution of 1849 gave no active or passive suffrage to women. In Germany, females only gained their right to vote in 1918 after World War I (Equal rights, equal duties – Women’s suffrage in Germany, 2017, para. 4). It lasted so long because of the many obstacles in the way of German suffragists. In 1911 over a million women went on the streets to protest and claim their rights. During the war, women in Germany took positions that belonged to men. In 1918 “the Council of the People’s Deputies announced universal suffrage from the age of 20 for both men and women” (Equal rights, equal duties – Women’s suffrage in Germany, 2018, para. 7). Moreover, in January of 1919, women had their first opportunity to use their rights because of the constituent assembly election. Eighty-two percent of women voted for the 1919 elections, and thirty-seven of 423 deputies were female. However, in 2013 seventy-two percent of women voted, while 230 of 631 deputies were women.

The world needs men and women to keep a balance in decision-making, and that is perfectly illustrated by the painting called Suffrage Universel: Guerre, Paix (Figure 1). In France, after the 1848-1849 revolution, all men received the right to vote but not women. French women condemned the British militant approach and legally wanted to get women’s suffrage. Even when the Chamber of Deputies provided a law that made women voting possible, the Senate blocked this bill several times. As a result, French women gained voting rights after World War II. They showed the example “when determination and unity resulted in a social movement’s success” (Nguyen, 2018, para. 7). Females in other European countries also fought for their rights. In 1904 in Berlin, the International Women Suffrage Alliance was created, and it still functions nowadays. Australia and New Zealand were far more progressive and gave the right to vote to women in the 1890s. However, Finland and Norway were the first to gain suffrage for females in 1913.

Suffrage Universel: Guerre
Figure 1: Suffrage Universel: Guerre, Paix. (1882). La Citoyenne

To conclude, every country’s women had a unique way of gaining vital rights. Even though it is clear nowadays that every person is an individual that deserves equal rights and opportunities. In the nineteenth century, females did not have the right to vote but also to own their property and divorce. The problem with lower salaries is still topical today, but the difference is not as significant as in the past. Humanity continues to make steps toward a bright future where everyone is valued and appreciated. Everyone deserves to be the owner of their lives and choose their path.


Equal rights, equal duties – Women’s suffrage in Germany. (2017). DHM Blog. Web.

Howe, J. W. (1909). Jane Addams on suffrage. New York Times.Web.

Nguyen, F. (2018). French union for women’s suffrage. HIST. Web.

Spielvogel, J. J. (2011). Western civilization: A brief history. 7th edn. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Stanton, E. C. (1892). Hearing of the women suffrage association before the house committee on the judiciary. Library of Congress. Web.

Suffrage Universel: Guerre, Paix. (1882). La Citoyenne. Web.

Ward, H. (1889). An appeal against female suffrage. The Nineteenth Century. Web.

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