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100 Years of Women’s Suffrage in Sweden

This year marks the centennial of women’s suffrage in Sweden. In 1921, Sweden became the final Nordic country to allow women to vote when the two-chamber parliament voted in favor of female suffrage on January 26. Finland (while part of the Russian Empire) had granted women the right to vote in 1906, with Norway following in 1907, Denmark in 1915, and Iceland (while part of Denmark) in 1915.

Photo of the Swedish Parliament in 1905

Riksdagshuset 1905. Photo by Swedish parliament (Sveriges riksdag), https://riksdagen.se/globalassets/17.-press/pressbild/pressbild-riksdagshuset-1905.jpg. Used under Swedish Parliament’s Terms of Use.

Background

Following a parliamentary reform in 1865, the Swedish Parliament (Sveriges Riksdag) consisted of two chambers: första kammaren (first chamber or upper house) and andra kammaren (second chamber or lower house).

The election process to the first chamber was indirect, and men who met the age, income, and wealth requirements, were eligible to be elected by city councils and municipal assemblies, whereas members of the second chamber were elected through direct elections by men who met the minimum income requirements. Thus, women did not have a vote in the election of the second chamber. However, women who had legal capacity (myndiga), i.e., women of legal  age who were unmarried or widowed, were indirectly voting for members of the first chamber at this time, as women who owned land or paid a sufficient amount in taxes, and who had been issued a debetsedel (tax certificate) by the government, were allowed to vote in municipal elections in Sweden as of 1862. However, in 1919, Sweden was the only Nordic country  that had not yet granted women a national right to vote or stand for office in parliamentary elections.

The first individual proposal (motion nr. 49) for female suffrage was presented to the lower chamber of Parliament by Fredrik T. Borg in 1884. It was voted down; 44 in favor and 53 against. However, women continued to seek the right to vote, including writing a letter to the Swedish King Oscar II, asking for the right to vote.

In 1912, the Swedish government presented its first proposal for female suffrage (Kung. Maj:ts   proposition nr. 110). It passed in the second chamber but was rejected by the first. Additional proposals were made to Parliament between 1912 and 1919, both by members of Parliament and the government, including Kung. Maj:ts proposition nr. 104 av 1918. The proposal that eventually won favor in Parliament was the government proposal of 1919 (Kung. Maj:ts proposition nr. 358).

Because expanding the right to vote required a change to the Riksdagsordning – one of four constitutional documents – the amendment had to be voted on twice, once before a general election and once after the election.

The first decision to change the law on female suffrage passed in 1919 when the first and second chambers approved the proposal on May 2, 1919. A general election to Parliament was held on September, 28, 1920. The final vote on the amendment took place on January 26, 1921, when it passed in the first chamber with 78 votes to 31. Thus, as of 1921, the Riksdagsordning (SFS 1921:20) provided that women could vote. The law is also available in the Law Library’s collection Svensk författningssamling (1921:20).

Following the amendment, the first parliamentary election in which women had a direct vote was held in September 1921. In total, five women were elected as members of Parliament in the 1921 election. One in the first chamber: Kerstin Hesselgren, and four in the second chamber: Elisabeth Tamm, Nelly Thüring, Bertha Wellin, and Agda Östlund. The first female member of Parliament to speak before Parliament was Agda Östlund, who opened her speech by saying: “Äntligen stod kvinnan i talarstolen” [Finally, the woman stood in the speaker’s chair]. Thereby rewording the phrase from Gösta Berlings Saga: “Äntligen stod prästen i predikstolen” [Finally the preacher stood in the preacher’s chair].

Members of the Swedish Parliament following the election in 1921.

Ledamöter på väg uppför Slottsbacken efter 1921 års val [Members of Parliament walking  towards the castle following the 1921 election]. Photo by Swedish Parliament (Sveriges riksdag), https://www.riksdagen.se/globalassets/17.-press/pressbild/pressbild-intag-ledamoter-1921-slottsbacken.jpg. Used under Swedish Parliament’s Terms of Use.

Today, the Swedish Constitution guarantees all Swedish citizens aged 18 and up who have ever resided in Sweden the right to vote in the national parliamentary elections. By law, it must take place on the second Sunday of September every four years. The next election to the Swedish Parliament will be held in 2022.


Further Reading

Online resources in Swedish:

Gothenburg University Women’s Suffrage Portal

SCB, Hundra år med kvinnlig rösträtt (2021)

Swedish Parliament website

Kungl. Maj:ts Nåd. Proposition Nr 110 (1912)

Kungl. Maj:ts Nåd. Proposition Nr 190 (1918)

Swedish Constitution

The Library of Congress and the Law Library also hold a number of items related to women’s suffrage around the globe.

Library Collection resources on women’s suffrage in Sweden:

 In Custodia Legis online resources on women’s suffrage around the globe:

Law Library of Congress online resources on Sweden

National Parliaments: Sweden

Global Legal Monitor: Sweden

In Custodia Legis search results for “Sweden

Guide to Law Online: Sweden

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