The Congress of Women: Political Status of Women

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

Political Status of Women

After this preliminary glance at the social condition of women in 1192, let us look at her legal condition, and see whether her legal emancipation has kept pace with her social emancipation. The political status of women will first be considered. Women enjoy a more or less extended right of suffrage in a majority of all the civilized nations of the world. In the United States they have full suffrage in Wyoming and municipal suffrage in Kansas. In Montana, women have school suffrage, and if taxpayers, they can vote upon all questions involving the levy or disbursement of moneys for public purposes. In twenty more states they have a right to vote for school officers or upon school matters, and in at least six more states they may vote by petition upon certain local matters, such as local improvements, or the granting of liquor licenses; so that there are at least twenty-nine out of a total of forty-eight states and territories of our Union where women enjoy some form of suffrage. In Canada women can vote for all municipal officers throughout the length and breadth of the Dominion, although no married woman can vote except in Manitoba and British Columbia. The women of all the colonies of Great Britain, from Australia to Canada and from Cape Colony to New Zealand, enjoy municipal suffrage, including the presidencies of Madras and Bombay in India, if taxpayers, and the same is true of the rural districts of British Burmah. In England, Scotland and Wales single women and widows vote for all officers except members of Parliament. In Ireland they vote for guardians of the poor. In Continental Europe women are also to some degree enfranchised. In France women teachers vote for women members of boards of education. In Italy widows and wives separated from their husbands vote by proxy for members of Parliament (law of 1882). In Austria they vote by proxy at all elections, including elections of members of provincial and imperial parliaments. In Russia, and in all Russian Asia, women who are heads of households vote by proxy at municipal and village elections upon all local questions. (Law of 1870.) In Sweden, for many years, women have voted at local elections, and since 1862 they have had municipal suffrage. In Norway they have merely school suffrage. In Finland, all women, except wives living with their husbands, can vote for all elective officers save one. (Law of 1865.) In Iceland, as in Wyoming, and also on the Isle of Man, women enjoy full and equal suffrage with men. (1882.)

Woman's right to the ballot is recognized even in some very conservative countries, countries so conservative that by the same law which extends the franchise to woman she is herself excluded from occupying the offices voted for. This is the case in Italy, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Austria, except as to a few petty positions.

The general principle of American law seems to be that where no express exception is made by law, the electors for an office are qualified to fill the office. Thus in Wyoming women are eligible to every public office on the same terms as men; in Kansas to municipal offices, and in the states where women may vote for school officers they are generally eligible to election to the office. Many of the states of the Union admit women to public office even though they refuse to them the ballot. A few of the strictly public offices now held by women in America are county recorder of deeds, assistant register of deeds, notary public, town clerk (Vermont), county clerk (Missouri), assistant clerk of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, receiver of public moneys in Mississippi, custodian of the Mississippi state capital, mayor of cities in Kansas, and all kinds of school offices. Many offices connected with the public charities are held by women in this country. Thus they are members of state boards of charities in Massachusetts and Connecticut, visitors, managers and trustees of reformatory and penal institutions, physicians, visitors and trustees of state insane hospitals, overseers of the poor, and police matrons. By act of Congress in 1870 the clerkships of the Executive Department of the United States Government were opened to women, who now make up a large percentage of the total number of government clerks.

In England women serve as poor-law guardians, visitors to and physicians in government hospitals and insane asylums, as assistant commissioners of the Labor Commission, and the position of meteorologist at the Government Observatory at Hong Kong is now held by a lady. In France women are members of the boards of education. In the Austrian provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina women have recently received appointments as government medical officers.

The political condition of woman to day may be briefly summed up thus: While she is not yet admitted to the full exercise of political rights, except in Wyoming and a few small islands, still she possesses very generally some right to vote upon local matters more or less closely affecting her as a citizen, and to hold many executive offices. Legislative and judicial offices are not as yet granted to women, except in a very few countries and states, and even where granted are not actually occupied by women.

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