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Hedwig Dohm, "Women’s Right to Vote" (1876)

Hedwig Dohm (1831-1919) was married to Wilhelm Friedrich Ernst Dohm, editor of the satirical journal Kladderadatsch. In a career spanning more than fifty years, Dohm published novels and plays but remains best known for the ironic and sharp-witted essays that she wrote between 1872 and 1879 on the subject of women’s rights. The following excerpt is from her essay “Women’s Right to Vote,” which appeared in the collection Women’s Nature and Rights [Der Frauen Natur und Recht]. Here, she argues for female suffrage with impeccable logic, offering a point-by-point refutation of common arguments, such as “Women don’t want the vote” and “Women don’t need the vote.” In the final lines of the essay, Dohm embraces the cause of political equality in more passionate tones, calling on all women to oppose “gender despotism.”

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(Pages 57ff, 67ff)

[ . . . ] In Germany, the women’s question has not yet reached the state of serious discussion. Ridiculed by the ill-intentioned, although mockery has never been a touchstone of truth, pushed aside by the well-intentioned as a minor issue for the time being, the women’s question is still in such a state of infancy in our parts that – how stunningly naive – even Social Democratic papers agitate against women’s right to vote with catchphrases that could have been borrowed from the [ultraconservative] Kreuzzeitung, catch phrases about the dissolution of sacred family ties.

It has been left to Germany to produce these social philistines, these moral harlequins, who unfold a purple banner emblazoned with the most splendid principles of purest democracy with one hand and crack a whip at half of humanity with the other.

One freethinker from the American South summarized his political creed as follows: “All men are born free except niggers.”* [ . . . ] Much greater is the deficit of human charity and logical reasoning power that those charlatans of democracy display by excluding women from voting. Certainly, only a small fraction of Social Democracy agrees with this prostitution of its own principles. Why then does the great Socialist party not disavow those who hold such convictions and send these desperadoes of conviction off where they belong: in the editorial department of the Kreuzzeitung or similar places? Once having gained power, anyone who does not want women’s independence will destroy that of his fellow citizens. [ . . . ]

Thus, the very same arguments that we have been forced to recognize through the political emancipation of the dispossessed, of workers, and, most recently, of the Negroes also apply to the political rights of women.

The reasons men give (against women’s right to vote – the editor) are:

1. Women do not need the right to vote,

2. Women do not want the right to vote,

3. They are incapable of exercising it,

4. A woman’s sex naturally excludes her from any type of political activity.

* Quoted in English in the original German text – trans.

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