(Exhibition text in English, referring to a QR code in the exhibition)

One of the First Five

Name: Nelly Maria Thüring, née Nilsson
Born: 1875 in Mala, Skåne.
Died: 1972 in Stockholm.

Single mother and one of the first five women to be elected as a member of the Swedish Parliament in 1921.

Nelly Thüring is born Nelly Nilsson to a smallholder family in Skåne. She moves around doing different jobs in Kristianstad and Helsingborg, and is eventually offered a position as an assistant with a photographer in Helsingborg. In 1900, she sets up her own studio at Stortorget 4 in Lund and begins using the surname Thüring.

Nelly marries and has two children. The marriage is not a happy one, and she and her husband separate. Thüring becomes a single mother. She becomes politically active, with a particular interest in issues relating to peace, temperance and women’s suffrage. She moves to Gothenburg in 1911. She joins the Gothenburg Social Democratic Women’s Club and serves as a city council member between 1917-1920.

She sells her photo studio in 1920 and devotes herself entirely to politics. She travels everywhere on her motorcycle and attends hundreds of political rallies. After the 1921 parliamentary elections, in which women are allowed to vote for the first time, she joins four other women as the first female members of parliament.

An American Success

Name: Mary Anderson, née Maria Sofia Magnusdotter
Born: 1872 in Saleby, Västergötland
Died: 1964 in the U.S.A.

Swedish emigrant who becomes a trade union leader and head of the U.S. Women’s Bureau.

When her parents are forced to give up their farm outside Lidköping, 16-year-old Maria Anderson and her sister emigrate to the United States in 1888. After working as a dishwasher and a maid, Anderson ends up in a shoe factory in Chicago. In 1899, she comes into contact with trade unions for the first time. Anderson finds her calling in life. Within a year, she is president of the local women’s branch of the Boot and Shoe Workers Union.

Anderson’s driving force is women’s rights in the labour market and in the trade unions. She resents the prevailing attitude that trade unions are for men only, since all women are expected to stop working when they get married. Anderson eventually leaves the factory and works full-time for the Women’s Trade Union League. She participates in the 1919 Paris peace negotiations after World War I.

When the new Women’s Bureau is established under the Department of Labour in 1920, Anderson becomes its first director. Under her leadership, the agency pursues issues related to women’s wages, working conditions and access to the labour market. During her 25 years at the Bureau, the number of American women in the labour force is doubled.

Prohibition – a Matter of Gender?

In 1922, Sweden holds a referendum concerning the prohibition of alcoholic beverages. Men and women vote on different ballot papers. The idea is that women should not be given too much influence over an issue that mostly affects men. According to critics, this is clear evidence that, despite claims of equal, democratic rights, a woman’s vote is not considered equal to that of a man. MP Nelly Thüring expresses her dissatisfaction: ‘Are men really ready to sacrifice their human rights principles – so recently asserted – on the altar of their beloved spirits?’.

The naysayers, who are against the prohibition, win. The margin is small – only 2 %. Men are more likely to vote against, while 59 % of women vote in favour. The idea of enforcing complete prohibition is abandoned. In other countries, such as the United States and Finland, alcohol is banned throughout the 1920s.

Fierce Political Atmosphere

‘The forthcoming election will, mainly due to the orientation of the pitiful so-called “freethinkers”, take on a decisively aggravated nature. They will appear using the following signature: “the right” – referring to all good, broad-minded and freedom-loving citizens, who alone understand how a state should be “governed”.’
From Morgonbris (Social Democratic Womens’ journal), 1928

‘They [the Social Democratic Party] present vast fortunes of millions, if not billions, of kronor, and invite everyone to just go on and help themselves. We, the Social Democrats are not stingy with money. At the moment we don’t have any, but just give us a majority, and we will plunder the rich and let the money flow in abundance.’
From Ny Dagligt Allehanda (conservative newspaper), 1928


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