Centenary of women's political rights in Finland

The first women Members of Parliament in Finland, 1907-1908

Aura Korppi-Tommola

Nineteen women were elected as Members of Parliament in the first Finnish parliamentary elections in 1907. Nine of these women were from the Social Democratic Party, while ten were from centrist and right-wing parties. The women worked within their own parties to improve women's status and promote social welfare legislation, but they also participated in other legislative work. They thus began a tradition that lives on today: Finnish women have not shown an interest in a separate party for women. The first women MPs were active in many fields. Many of them were also public figures eagerly recruited by the parties as their candidates.

A group photograph of MPs, 1907. The women MPs from the bourgeois parties are dressed in black, whereas the social democrats are dressed in white. National Board of Antiquities, Archives for Prints and Photographs.

A group photograph of MPs, 1907. The women MPs from the bourgeois parties are dressed in black, whereas the social democrats are dressed in white.
National Board of Antiquities, Archives for Prints and Photographs.

The Social Democratic Party

Iida Aalle-Teljo (1885–1955)
Businesswoman Ida Aalle-Teljo was one of the founders of the Workers' Party and an important ideologue. She established the Federation of Women Workers and was its chairwoman. Following the Finnish Civil War in 1918, Aalle-Teljo fled to Soviet Russia. After returning to Finland the next year, she was imprisoned until 1922. Aalle-Teljo later ran a lodging house in Kotka and was a member of the local City Council.

Anni Huotari (1874–1943)
Anni Huotari attended primary school and craft school. She went on to work as a craft teacher in Parkano and as a seamstress in Vyborg. Huotari held elected positions in the Federation of Social Democratic Women and was the secretary of the Seamstresses' Union. From 1918 to 1922, Huotari was a political prisoner with an influential role among those defeated in the Civil War.

Mimmi Kanervo (1870–1922)
Mimmi Kanervo, previously a servant, went on to become the secretary of the Finnish Domestic and Restaurant Workers' Union. After being imprisoned in 1918 in the aftermath of the Civil War, she was a lecturer for her party's women's organisation.

Jenny Nuotio (later Upari) (1882–1948)
Jenny Nuotio, a weaver and the wife of a policeman, lived in Vyborg, the rural municipality of Vyborg and Sipoo. She was the secretary and treasurer of the Federation of Women Workers and became the youngest member of the first Parliament. After getting married, Nuotio abandoned politics, but following the death of her husband, she rejoined the weavers' trade union.

Maria Paaso-Laine (1868–1945)
Maria Paaso-Laine, a seamstress and a party official, had three children. She supported public funding for poor relief and the recruitment of midwives and was a proponent of general compulsory education. Paaso-Laine attracted attention for her fashionable, upper-class style of dress which reflected her eagerness to advance socially from the working class to the middle class. On the other hand, she may have used the way she dressed to protest against the remnants of class society, in which people were labelled also on the basis of their clothes.

Hilja Pärssinen (1876–1935)
Hilja Pärssinen, a primary school teacher and the daughter of a clergyman, sought to improve the living conditions of disadvantaged people. Her work later took a radical turn: in 1918 she became a member of a revolutionary government known as the Council of People's Representatives. In spring 1918, Pärssinen fled to Russia. She returned to Finland in 1919 and was imprisoned for several years. After her release, she worked as a secondary school teacher and served in Parliament for one term.

Maria Raunio (1872–1911)
Maria Raunio was a seamstress, an official and active member of the workers' movement, and a member of the Social Democratic Party. She had seven children. Raunio was a vociferous supporter of disadvantaged people. She was excluded from the party's list of candidates in 1910 because of internal disagreements. Raunio then emigrated to the United States, where she was an agitator for the workers' movement before her death.

Sandra Lehtinen (Aleksandra) (1873–1954)
A servant, a seamstress and a political agitator, Sandra Lehtinen was a passionate supporter of the workers' movement and a party official. She lived in Soviet Russia from 1919 to 1921 and was imprisoned from 1929 to 1931 for her political views. Subsequently, she lived almost a decade in Moscow and did not return to Finland until 1945.

Miina Sillanpää (1866–1952)
Journalist Miina Sillanpää was an early advocate of women's trade union rights and a staunch supporter of social welfare legislation. She was the first woman government minister, appointed in the 1920s. Thanks to this status and her exceptional cooperation skills, Sillanpää became a symbol of equality for the whole nation. She later established a home for unmarried mothers in Helsinki.

The Finnish Party

Eveliina Ala-Kulju (1867–1940)
Eveliina Alakulju, a farmer's wife from south-western Finland, attended primary school and completed a course for travelling school teachers. She went on to teach at travelling schools in Kuortane and Karstula for five years, and also worked as a shopkeeper. After marrying her second husband Aleksanteri Ala-Kulju, she ran a farm with him.

Hedvig Gebhard (1867–1961)
Hedvig Gebhard was a writer for the Swedish- and Finnish-language editions of Pellervo magazine. She was a founder of Kotiliesi magazine and a pioneer in home economics instruction. In 1937 Gebhard was awarded the Finnish honorific title of talousneuvos for accomplishments in the field of economics.

Aleksandra Gripenberg (1857–1913)
Writer Aleksandra Gripenberg was a prominent advocate of women's rights. She became well-known as the long-time chairwoman of the Finnish Women's Association and as a founder and treasurer of the International Council of Women before Finnish women's organisations began to cooperate with international partners. Gripenberg's views on equality were rooted in the 19th century, and she therefore found it difficult to accept the idea of universal suffrage.

Liisi Kivioja (1859–1925)
Liisi Kivioja originally worked as a primary school teacher in the Ostrobothnia area along the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia. After serving in Parliament, she became the head of a trade school for elderly blind people in Kuopio. From 1918 to 1925, Kivioja was the manager of the Kalajoki branch of the Kansallis-Osake-Pankki bank. Such managerial positions were rarely held by women at the time.

Hilda Käkikoski 1864–1912
Hilda Käkikoski was a history teacher at the Finnish Coeducational School in Helsinki and the vice-chair of the Finnish Women's Association. As a Member of Parliament, Käkikoski campaigned for a woman's right to hold State posts and for equal pay.

Hilma Räsänen (1877–1955)
Primary school teacher Hilma Räsänen was a well-known lecturer for Friends of Temperance and the Finnish Women's Association. She opposed the establishment of a separate women's organisation within her party. Räsänen worked for women's causes and ran a rest home for women in Askola. After briefly serving in Parliament, she worked as a primary school teacher. She later defected to the Agrarian Party, which was established in 1908.

Iida Vemmelpuu (1868–1924)
Iida Vemmelpuu was a primary school teacher and the head of a folk high school. She supported popular enlightenment in line with the ideology of the Fennoman movement. She was particularly influential in Huittinen, where she served on the municipal council and held positions in the local youth association and women's association. Her ideology was based on strong Christian ethics.

The Young Finns' party

Lucina Hagman (1853–1946)
Headteacher Lucina Hagman supported the radical wing of the women's movement in the 19th century. She was a founder and chairwoman of the Union Women's Rights Federation in Finland. Hagman believed that coeducation would lead to greater respect between men and women. Hagman was the head of the Finnish Coeducational School in Helsinki from 1886 to 1899. She then became the head of the New Finnish Coeducational School in Helsinki, which she herself had established, and held that post until 1938. She was the first Finnish woman to be awarded the title of professor, in 1928.

Alli Nissinen (1866–1926)
Headteacher, writer Alli Nissinen was a leading figure in the Martta Organisation and the Union Women’s Rights Federation in Finland. She was the head of a preparatory school in Helsinki and wrote books, plays and poetry for children and young people.

The Swedish People's Party

Dagmar Neovius (1867–1939)
Teacher, actuary Dagmar Neovius was one of the founders of the Martta Organisation and the Swedish-language Martta Association. She was also a member of the Women's Kagal, which actively opposed the oppressive policies of the Russians. Neovius was one of the non-socialist MPs who supported social welfare legislation.

Literature and sources

Ahtisaari, Eeva et al.
1997. Yksi kamari, kaksi sukupuolta. Suomen eduskunnan ensimmäiset naiset. Eduskunnan kirjasto, Helsinki.
Kansallisbiografia 1-6
2003-05. Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.
www.kansallisbiografia.fi
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Ministry of Social Affairs and Health Tane Christina Institute Minna-portaali Statistics Finland Parliament of Finland Nytkis Local and Regional Government Finland Unioni, The league of Finnish feminists National Council of Women of Finland Utbildningstyrelsen Allianssi Valtikka.fi Gender equality in Finland Virtual Finland