Topic Pages: Women's history

This topic page was created as part of Dalane Folkemuseum’s celebration of the Norwegian Women’s Suffrage Anniversary 1913-2013. The page is made to be a useful resource for schools and others interested in women’s lives and living conditions. On this page, you will find historical information regarding women’s living conditions in Dalane, and links to webpages that highlight women’s history.

The museum's celebration of the Women's Suffrage Anniversary

Dalane Folkemuseum has taken a closer look at the position of women in Dalane, and their entry into the public sphere. Through gathering various sources, we wished to collect material showing the consequences the democratisation project and social development had for local women. The result of this work was presented in the exhibition 1/2 the population, at Egersund Fayancemuseum.

The museum was part of the committee for the «Right to Vote Anniversary» in Dalane. The committee also consisted of politicians and staff from the district cultural centres in all four municipalities. Throughout the year, the committee hosted several activities and events in the Dalane region. The official opening of the Right to Vote-anniversary took place at Egersund Fayancemuseum, on March 8th. On that date, the exhibition “1/2 the population” opened, followed by an event focusing on the celebration of the International Women’s Day. The committee leader, Unn Therese Omdal, wrote about the event on her blog.

Women's rights

Discussions regarding the expansion of women’s rights, during the last few decades of the 1800s and early 1900s, were often quite polarized. Feelings and opinions regarding the matter varied greatly, among both men and women. This was largely due to an expansion of women's rights conflicting with the prevailing view of women, defining what a woman was and how she should act. The question regarding women’s rights came into focus at a time when society was changing.

The fight for women's suffrage

On June 11th 1913, Parliament unanimously voted for universal suffrage for women. With this act, women were given the right to vote according to the same terms as men. Women were referred to as Norwegian citizens in the Constitution, and the democratisation process that had been ongoing since the Constitution was signed in 1814 had reached a conclusion.

Many women could vote prior to 1913, at both municipal and parliamentary elections. However, unlike men, women’s suffrage was related to income. This is often referred to as limited suffrage, as many did not fulfil the requirements. To be able to vote, a woman or her husband had to have a taxable income of 300kr in the countryside or 500kr in towns.

Women’s suffrage was expanded step by step. The first breakthrough came in 1901, when women were granted limited suffrage at municipal elections. In 1907, women with limited suffrage were granted the right to vote at parliamentary elections. In 1910, women were granted universal suffrage at municipal elections, and in 1913 granted universal suffrage at parliamentary elections.

Egersund city

The 1800s was a period of great societal change, both ideologically, socially, economically and politically. These changes were also evident in Egersund. Within a few decades, Egersund evolved into a modern city with industry, a telegraph station, newspapers and railway connections. The farming community was dissolving and an increasing amount of people made a living from trades other than farming and fishing. In Dalane, as elsewhere in the country, the distinctions between countryside and city became increasingly clear. Townspeople made a living through shipping, trade, handicrafts, industry and the service sector. Women became wage earners due to a female surplus, increased urbanisation, industrialisation and a softening of rules and regulations. Class distinctions were clearly visible, and served as a determining factor for women’s opportunities. It was mainly unmarried women and widows who took part in working life, and social class often determined career options. Working life was considered unsuitable for bourgeois domestic housewives, so they participated in public life through organisational activities. Women’s partaking in public life was largely connected to class and social status, and there were strict rules for what was considered proper or indecent conduct.

Women had to fight for their rights - including suffrage

The organised fight for women’s suffrage began in the 1880s in Norway. Prior to this, certain individuals had voiced their opinions regarding women’s position in Norwegian society and on the prevailing view of women. Among them, was author Camilla Collett, who was an honorary member of the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights. In 1913, she was celebrated by Norwegian women throughout the country, one hundred years after her birth. There was a special Camilla Collett-party arranged in Egersund, the 23rd of January 1913. With the Women’s Suffrage Anniversary in 2013, Camilla Collett was once again celebrated as a pioneering woman.

In 1883, six female students banded together to establish the women’s debate club Skuld. Through lectures and debates regarding current societal issues, the women practiced and developed debate techniques to ready themselves to partake in social debates that had so far been dominated by men. Anna Bugge from Egersund was one of the founding members of Skuld and later became the leader of the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights. Skuld was disbanded in 1885/1886. At this point the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights had become well established. Bugge is characterized as one of the Norwegian Association for Women's Rights' most radical leaders.

The Norwegian Association for Women's Rights was founded on the 28th of June 1884. Its purpose was to secure women proper rights and positions in Norwegian society. The association worked to better conditions for women in regards to education, working life, marriage and politics. Many members were disappointed that women’s suffrage was not part of the association's programme, as this was one of the big issues debated within the international feminist movement. This led to a group of members banding together to establish a new association. The Women’s Suffrage Association was founded in the autumn of 1885, aiming to fight for women’s suffrage. The following year, they sent a proposal to Parliament regarding women’s suffrage. Their proposal was not taken up for discussion in Parliament until four years later. Throughout the debate, temperatures rose in discussions between adherents and adversaries. One of the harshest attacks came from Johan Christian Heuch (1838-1904). Heuch was the bishop of the Kristiansand diocese and as such was head of the church in Dalane. In 1890, J.C. Heuch stated that: “She cannot do a Man’s Deed, and does not want to do a Woman’s Deed, what is she then? She becomes a deformed freak, she becomes a Neutrum” [translated]. The organised battle for women’s rights did not reach Dalane until the 1900s, but certain women voiced their displeasure prior to this. In Dalane Tidende, on the 11th of May 1887, you could read the following:

To the City's women!

Should we not band together, bring our broomsticks and head to correct the editor of “Egersundsposten”, for the teachings of enslavement that were preached to us there in last Tuesday’s edition? I did not know better than to believe us women to have the right to consider ourselves Christian and free even when married? Admittedly, we have not been granted the same royal privileges as men. However, following the biblical interpretation published in “Egersundsposten” last Tuesday, married, Christian women need to be as enslaved as Mohammedan women. (…) Yes, the editor’s slavish teachings about marriage are conveyed with such confidence that I am given the impression that the only way to give such a bungled religious man an ounce of respect for women’s opinions is to use old brooms and broomsticks.

“A Woman” [translated]

This letter to the editor in Dalane Tidende came as a reaction to what the editor of the other local newspaper, Egersundsposten, had written. The newspaper-debate arose following a law proposal from the political party Venstre, suggesting that women should hold authority in Parliament. Egersundsposten believed married women should not have political power. This made a reader signing her reply as "A Woman" to write to Dalane Tidende. Dalane Tidende was a left-wing newspaper and Egersundsposten a right-wing newspaper, and disagreements between them often followed national divisions between the political parties, as with the matter of women’s rights. Despite the fact that women in Egersund were not part of the political parties, and had not established their own feminist associations in 1887, they followed the discussion with interest and had their own opinions on the matter.

Women in Egersund get their own associations

In the 1840s, the first women’s association was established in Norway. For many women this provided an opportunity to take part in public life. The members were mostly engaged in missionary work, relief efforts, and the temperance movement; causes that typically focused on values. The 1880s saw the emergence a new type of association, working to improve women’s position in society and at the workplace. In 1861, the Women’s Association was established in Egersund. The members mostly met in private homes and brought their needlework with them. The women knitted and embroidered bazaar prizes, where the revenues were donated to national and international missionary work. The path was short from women aiding religious work and relief efforts, to women engaging in the temperance movement. The battle against alcohol was a question of values, but also a social-political question. The temperance movement known as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union was established in 1869. The association was exclusively for women and the members came from all walks of life. Today, the association is locally best known for running the Sailors’ reading room in Strandgaten. The association was engaged in the women’s movement and served as a unifying force for meetings discussing women’s position in society. They became an important partner and supporter for the Egersund Association for Women's Rights founded in October 1907. The Association for Women’s Rights was disestablished in 1914, but women had made their mark by then. The following years, several women’s associations came into being, among them Egersund Women's Public Health Association and the Egersund Housewives Association. In the 1930s, several associations for women’s politics were established. Right-wing women were first among them, establishing their own association 15.01.1935. Throughout the first decade of the 1900s, women in Egersund had established several associations where they could discuss issues regarding women’s rights and fight for women gaining and using their rights. The “battle” for women’s rights did not take place in Dalane, but some women and associations played a central role in maintaining rights won.

Women in Egersund vote for the first time

On the 23rd of March 1898, women could head for the ballot boxes in Egersund for the first time. The occasion was the referendum on Egersund Brennvinssamlag's (the Egersund liquor shop's) continued existence. Prohibitionists mobilised forcefully ahead of the referendum, especially encouraging women to make use of their voting rights. About 500 women showed up to demonstrate their disapproval of the liquor shop. Still, less than half of those with suffrage in the city showed up to vote. And so, the city retained its liquor sale a while longer.

Three years later, women could hit the ballot boxes again, when limited suffrage was introduced for municipal elections in 1901. Both advocates and adversaries of women’s suffrage encouraged women to make use of their newly gained right, in the battle to gain the most votes.

Many voted at the election and Sofie Michelsen from Venstre gained a place in the municipal council. The amount of women who used their voting rights during the 1901 election was thoroughly studied by members of Parliament. It became evident that women living in the countryside made little use of their suffrage, which was also the case in Dalane. In the cities, the turnout was much better. In the 1904 election, more women made use of their right to vote. At this point, the feminist movement, alongside the National Association for Women's Suffrage, had mobilized women to vote ahead of the elections. They held lectures and advertised in newspapers. Their slogan was “Voting right is voting obligation!” [translated].

Women’s involvement peaked in 1905, during the referendum on the dissolution of the union with Sweden. Women were not allowed to take part in this referendum, but made their own petition. According to the newspaper, 1234 women from Egersund and the surrounding areas signed their names, supporting the men’s yes to the dissolution of the union.

Egersund 1905 signatures

Associations in Egersund 1905 signatures

Heskestad (Eide constituency) 1905 signatures page 1

Heskestad (Eide constituency) 1905 signatures page 2

Lund (Moi) 1905 signatures

Sogndal 1905 signatures

Sokndal 1905 signatures

Despite of suffrage...

Women had gained new rights, but struggled to gain representation on boards and to be given formal offices. In Egersund, only five women were part of the municipal council in the period 1901-1940. These women were: Sofie Michelsen from Venstre, Marie Isachsen (1860-1924) who served for three periods 190, 1910 and 1913, Antonia Aniksdal (1871-1957) 1910, Theoline Tollefsen (1879-1921) and Anne W. Fredriksen (1891-1985), all representing the Temperance party. For the first time in Dalane, a woman became mayor when Gunnhild Vassbø (Sp) was elected in Bjerkreim in 1994. After this, Solveig Ege Tengesdal (KrF) was elected mayor of Eigersund in March of 1996, followed by Marit Myklebust (Ap) from December 1996 to October 2003.

Want to know more?

Below you will find links to Norwegian websites discussing the feminist movement, suffrage and gender equality.

The Women's Suffrage Anniversary 1913-2013 – The official website for the Women's Suffrage Anniversary

Suffrage for women in Norway – Article at Store Norske Leksikon

Women in Norway through 100 years – Website made by KILDEN

The battle for women's suffrage - Parliament's webpages regarding women's suffrage with historic source material

Women in Parliament – Parliament's webpages about female representatives

That's just the way it is - Debate book and webpages for teens regarding democracy and suffrage

Days of battle: The feminist movement of the 1970s – Website made by KILDEN

Women in the workplace - Topic pages about women in the workplace and their struggle for equal rights, made by KILDEN

Female photographers in Rogaland – Photo network Rogaland

The right to vote – Topic pages made by KILDEN