Women’s independence

congressThe 4th of July holiday tends to find me thinking about women and independence. This year’s no different, and a bit of research led to the discovery that it’s a noteworthy centenary: In mid-June 1913, women from all over the world traveled to Budapest for the International Woman Suffrage Congress.

Within a month, leaders of the movement published accounts of the Congress in Jus Suffragii, a globally distributed monthly.  Celebrated were women’s internationalism and solidarity. Delighting in Hungarian authorities’ insistence that the delegates remove their hats, Connecticut native Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote:

‘Women went about with their heads bare and their hands free.’

Suffrage victories also were celebrated. While the Congress was in session, Jus Suffragii reported, delegate Jane Addams received a telegram telling her that women in Illinois (her home state, and, incidentally, mine) were winning the vote. The Illinois women’s suffrage law would be passed on July 1, 1913 – 100 years ago this week.

sheepEdited from July 1913 onwards by Liverpool-born Mary Sheepshanks (right), the Jus Suffragii periodical was republished by Routledge. In an introduction to that 2003 reissue, Sybil Oldfield wrote that under Sheepshanks’ leadership the periodical

‘covered such controversial and still topical subjects as the age of consent for girls, alcohol control, care of children in need, education for girls, new employment openings for women, trade union rights, divorce law reform, health insurance for mothers, maternity benefits, minimum wages, prostitution, women medical workers, women police, women’s politicians, as well as women’s right to vote and women’s war experience ….’

womens-budapest-program-copyDelegates’ opposition to war was a key issue, at the conference and thereafter. Yet within a year that opposition was voiced within the context of war: July 4, 1914, was the date of burial of an Austrian archduke whose assassination would spark World War I. As noted in an essay available here, the onset of war divided and diverted suffragists. (My earlier comments on Addams and that war are here.) Women in the United States thus would not secure a constitutional amendment guaranteeing them the vote until 1920, 2 years after the war’s end.

(credit for top left 1913 photo of delegates in Budapest and credit for middle right circa-1920s photo Mary Sheepshanks courtesy of N.Y. Public Library; credit for photo below left of 1913 Congress program)

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