Today, June 19, is Women’s Rights Day in Iceland. The holiday commemorates the day, in 1915, when all Icelandic women aged 40 and older, were first given the right to vote in parliamentary elections and also run for parliament.
A brief history of women’s suffrage in Iceland
“As early as 1882, widows and women of independent means had received the right to vote in municipal elections, and in 1907, this right was extended to all women,” writes Stefan Jonasson, editor of Lögberg-Heimskringla. Alþingi voted to extend women’s voting and candidacy rights to parliamentary elections in 1911, but this was struck down—twice—by the Danish king, until Kristján X relented in 1915. Iceland became an independent state under the Danish crown in 1918, and two years later, all age and income restrictions were lifted, giving all Icelandic women equal voting rights in 1920.
The Icelandic suffrage movement was driven by the Icelandic Women’s Association, which was founded in 1894, as well as the Women’s Rights Association, which was started by Kvennablaðið (‘The Women’s Paper’) founder Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir in 1907. Bríet and three fellow suffragettes were elected to the Reykjavík Town Council in 1908. Bríet held the seat until 1911 and then again from 1913 – 1919. She then became the first woman to run for parliament in 1916, but was not elected. Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason, the principal of Kvennaskólinn (‘The Women’s School’) became the first woman to hold a seat in Alþingi in 1922. A statue in her honour stands in front of parliament today.
Women’s Rights Day celebrations in Reykjavík this year
The celebrations will start at 11:00 AM in Hólavallagarður Cemetery with a musical performance by Una Torfadóttir. Afterwards, Vice President of the Reykjavík City Council Magnea Gná Jóhannsdóttir will deliver a speech and lay the wreath on Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir’s grave, in honour of her contributions to the suffrage movement.
Later in the day, Kvennaheimilið Hallveigarstaðir, which has served as the home for women’s organizations in the capital area since 1967, will celebrate its 55th anniversary. Guests are invited to join festivities at Túngata 14 from 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm. Refreshments will be served and guest of honour Eliza Reid, First Lady of Iceland, will give a speech. Rakel Adolphsdóttir from the Women’s History Museum will give a short lecture on the history of the building and the event will be rounded out with a performance by the Hrynjandi Women’s Chorus.