Friday, November 14, 2014

Flashback Friday: More on Women's Suffrage

I was reading the November 1845 Godey's Magazine and Lady's Book, (volume 31 page 223) looking for something to share with you when I came across a Miss Bremer:
Who among our readers does not know and love Frederika Bremer, Sweden's gifted daughter? An intellectual queen, from the cold regions of the north, she has stretched her sceptre, warm with human sympathies, over the civilized world. Talk of the empire of Victoria, of her power--what is it when compared with that of Miss Bremer?
Wow, more important and powerful than Queen Victoria, who ruled about a quarter of the world at that point. Despite my degree in gender studies, I'd never heard of her, and I wondered if we even remember her today.

As it turns out, Wikipedia does. Fredrika Bremer, was a Swedish writer and feminist activist who lived from 1801-1865.
Photo by Gabriel Ehrnst Grundin, Wikimedia 
"She had a large influence on social development in Sweden, especially in feminist issues...Her novel Hertha (1856) raised a debate in the parliament called "The Hertha debate," which contributed to the new law of legal majority for adult unmarried women in Sweden in 1858, and was somewhat of a starting point for the real feminist movement in Sweden. Hertha also raised the debate of higher formal education for women, and in 1861, the University for Women Teachers, was founded by the state after the suggested women's university in Hertha.... At the electoral reforms regarding the right to vote of 1862, she supported the idea to give women the right to vote...and the same year, women of legal majority were granted suffrage in municipal elections in Sweden. The first real women's rights movement in Sweden, the Fredrika Bremer Association founded in 1884, was named after her."
Godey's goes on to report an interview that Bremer had with The Countess of Hahn-Hahn ("one of the most distinguished literary ladies of Germany"). The article concludes:
There have been various reports--how originating no one could tell--that Miss Bremer was intending to visit our country. We feel quite sure, from what we know of her engagements and character, that she has never yet had such a visit even in contemplation. Let us hope that she may do this, but still we have very little reason to expect it. 
As it turns out, Bremer did travel in the US from 1849 to 1851. Although she expected to find a "promised land," she was disappointed, particularly in the institution of slavery.

Some days, I'm not entirely sure that she'd be any less disappointed in the status of women in the US--or indeed the world--today.

It is interesting how much more intellectual women's magazines seemed to be 150 years ago. Of course, these days women can pick up The Economist or The Washington Post or any myriad of political magazines (or indeed read them on the web) but with the exception of Marie Claire I can't think of any American women's magazine today that deals with controversial political issues.

I also wonder how many Swedish activists or politicians Americans are (being) acquainted with these days. We hardly get any international news. Can you imagine if any of the mainstream media focused on breadth--covering stories from around the world--rather than run the same story all the time for 72 hours straight (which seems to be the amount of time the channels will focus on one issue) until it is "resolved." We might actually know something. Okay, I've taken this absolutely delightful discovery and depressed myself. {Sigh.}


Margaret said...

Very interesting indeed. But yes, I do find the US very self centered news wise, and forget women's magazines. I don't even look at any anymore except for the craft ones. I watch BBC News for my news -- much more balanced. But even BBC News won't give us much in the way of Swedish politics or news.

Beth W said...

I commonly have that complaint about the news (I get most of my news from the BBC, but it's not much better on international news, either).

I've never heard of this historical figure- thank you for enlightening us! I wonder how many movers and shakers were lost to history because their country was small. But it makes sense, given many of the cultural attitudes of Sweden (and the nordic countries) that they would be as forward-thinking as anyone (and earlier than some of our other developed "enlightened" countries).

Jo who can't think of a clever nickname said...

Thank you for sharing the story of this most interesting woman.
I used to work in the Scandinavian dept at work and got in well with all the people I spoke to, mostly Norwegians, some Swedish. They generally seem to be a very civilised country! Although a little too cold for me and apparently chocolate is very expensive. Marit always used to time her visits to us in March so she could stock up with Easter eggs!