The women's procession on its way to Amalienborg. The women wear white dresses and banners.
Photo: Holger Damgaard

Political citizenship

The struggle for the right to vote became a popular cause during the 1900s, and the victory in 1915 was marked by a demonstration procession through Copenhagen.

The Women's Procession 5 June, 1915

On the morning of 5 June 1915, Copenhagen was at sixes and sevens. The trams and streets were full of women who were on their way to take part in the women's organisations' arranged women's procession to Amalienborg. The occasion was that the King would sign the new constitution that day, a constitution which made women democratic citizens. 10-12,000 - some newspapers even wrote 20,000 women - went through the city streets to mark that they now - after 30 years of struggle - had finally achieved the right to vote and could be elected to Parliament.

The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Ophav ukendt
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Ophav ukendt
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Københavns Bymuseum
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Ukendt ophav
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Ophav ukendt
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Holger Damgaard
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Holger Damgaard
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Ophav ukendt
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Holger Damgaard
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Holger Damgaard
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Ophav ukendt
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The Women's Procession was arranged by more than 30 women's organisations and attracted a great deal of attention in the streets of Copenhagen. The next day, the front pages of the newspapers all over the country were adorned with the vanguard of the Women's Procession, which consisted of young women dressed in white carrying the flag of Dannebrog and the Danish Women's Society's banner. Photo: Holger Damgaard
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The road to this point had been long. The demand for suffrage for women was first made in 1886 in the Folketing, the lower house of Parliament by the left-wing politician and women's rights activist Fredrik Bajer. The proposal was modest and concerned exclusively municipal suffrage for tax-paying women in Copenhagen. The bill was passed by the lower house with a few amendments and later rejected by the Landsting, the upper house of Parliament. A scenario that became the model for the many subsequent bills on political suffrage for women. The Folketing with a majority of the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats was in favour, and the Landsting, where the Conservative Party had a majority, was against.

Interpellations

Outside Parliament, the slowly growing women's movement began to make its mark. In 1888, by launching a petition for municipal suffrage, and then by appearing on every subsequent election day and questioning the nominated male candidates on their position on the suffrage issue. It was called interpellation!

The first time women spoke in an election tribune was on 21 January 1890, when elections to Parliament were held. Although it caused quite a stir, the interpellants were generally well received and the candidates answered their questions politely. However, in Odense and Præstø the women were refused interpellation, and in the conservative city of Fredericia the women were completely denied access to the election meetings.

Women's suffrage becomes a popular cause

After the system change in 1901, the suffrage issue really took off. And the fact that women in 1908 were given municipal suffrage only strengthened the demand to also have the right to vote in Parliament. New organisations came into being. The two largest - the Danish Women's Society and the National Association for Women's Suffrage - accounted in 1912 for a total of about 250 local branches and approximately 20,000 members.

A look at the two organisations' magazines "The Woman and Society" and "Women's Franchise" (translated titles) gives a good insight into their many activities. It was first and foremost about creating a popular movement, and the recruitment partly happened by holding local suffrage meetings, where well-known speakers canvassed for the cause. Whenever possible, the meetings were held outdoors and often attracted up to 1000 participants.

One of the most sought-after speakers was Gyrithe Lemche, who in addition to being an oratorical talent, also served as the Danish Women's Society's chief ideologue and strategist. In 1912, she spoke at a public meeting at Skamlingsbanken in Kolding for around 2000 attendants. In her speech, she argued that as long as women did not have the right to vote, there was still autocracy in Denmark: Men's autocracy!

Gyrithe Lemche (1866-1945) was the Danish Women's Society's leading ideologue and historiographer. She was the editor of the Danish Women's Society's magazine "The Woman and Society” from 1913-19 and a much sought after lecturer. Photo: Ukendt ophav
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Gyrithe Lemche (1866-1945) was the Danish Women's Society's leading ideologue and historiographer. She was the editor of the Danish Women's Society's magazine "The Woman and Society” from 1913-19 and a much sought after lecturer. Photo: Ophav ukendt
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"It [women's suffrage] means more than an Extension of the Right to Vote, more than an Increase of the Electorate and its Representatives in Parliament, it means a Break with the Past which recognised only a governing Principle in public Life: the male Principle; it means no less than a systematic Change. And since the Introduction of Autocracy in this Country, no such decisive Change of System has taken place. For the Constitution of 1849 did not mean, as People generally believe, the Abolition of Autocracy, it meant only the Transfer of Autocracy to Men. Only the constitutional Amendment that gives Women political Equality with Men will mean that Autocracy has been abolished in Denmark.

En sepia plakat med teksten "Til Kvinderne! Husk hvad Valgretten betyder for Danmarks Kvinder. Slut Jer til Valgretstoget.""
The organisers' call for women to participate in the Women's Procession.

Photo: Business Graphics Datentechnik G

With the constitutional amendment of 5 June, 1915, the demand for women's suffrage was met, and women participated in the Women's Procession to express their joy over the victory and not, as many past and contemporary historians have expressed it, to thank the king and Parliament. In the organisers' call for women to participate in the Women's Procession, it was made plain:

"Since the View has been put forward, both in Writing and orally, that the intended Women's Procession should be a Procession of Thanks to the Government and Parliament, We find it right to draw our Readers' Attention to the Fact that in the above Appeal to Danish Women, not in a single Place are the Words: thank you, but only an Invitation for Women to express to the Public as a whole that they appreciate and value the civil Right which is granted to them by the new Constitution. ”