Chairwoman of the Danish Women’s Society (1894–1910)
At the top of the Danish hill Himmelbjerget, where moments of national importance have been celebrated for over two centuries, stands a large oak tree. It was planted in 1915 to commemorate a new constitution that gave all Danish women, and previously disenfranchised men, the right to vote. At the age of seventy-eight, the Danish suffragette Jutta Bojsen-Møller had been working most of her adult life towards this achievement. In 1908, as Chairwoman of the Danish Women’s Society, she helped secure voting rights for women in local elections. When the new constitution was finally ratified, expanding rights to the national vote, she cheered from the gallery in Parliament.
‘Now, it is we women who are most appreciative of the new constitution; for the men, it is just an extension; for us, it is the whole thing,’ Bojsen-Møller declared in a speech the following day, 6 June 1915. Using a poetic framework, she described the long struggle towards women’s suffrage as similar to the progress made by hundreds of small trees, which slowly but steadily conquered an entire mountain, in a story by Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. Like the trees at the top, Bojsen-Møller suggests, enfranchised women can now look about themselves, taking stock of the world and assessing plans for the future.
Victory for Votes 1915
And so I have the pleasure of standing here on “Heaven’s Hill” [Himmelbjerget], even in this life, and on the spot above this point I shall shortly have the honour of inaugurating a beautiful oak tree, which has been planted to commemorate yesterday – the day that afforded women equal rights with men. We cannot then but think of the Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s tale about the little trees that took it upon themselves to clothe the mountain. When finally, after much resistance – the worst being from the mountain itself – they reached the top, some of them exclaimed: “Well! Reaching one’s destination certainly lifts the spirits.”
And so too with us women today. We have also been fighting for half a century, in the face of great resistance, derision and taunting from the outset – worst of all from women themselves – and now we have finally reached our goal. Just like those small trees, we too may exclaim: “Well! Winning a victory certainly lifts the spirits.”
… But now – now we rejoice. Now that ray of sunshine has reappeared, and with great force and clarity, now that women and domestic servants have been embraced; now we can indeed sing with truth: “Never will this day be forgotten”. The day 5 June 1915 will be celebrated by the navelwort in the field and by Danish women alike.
… But now we have scaled the hill and are looking around like those small trees. And what, pray, do we see? The world ablaze with murder and horror. And indeed, like the German journalist Matthias Claudius in the Wandsbeck Messenger, we must say: “War! War! Good that I am not to blame for that”. And yet, along with Bjørnson, we must also say: “For we let the country burn rather than have it go to wrack and ruin”. But it would not have fallen into disarray, and now that we women have been given the right to vote and, like the men, will be blamed for everything that comes to pass in our fatherland, let us actively strive to find a different way of settling conflicts than by killing one another and burning the land.