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Why did not French women obtain the right to vote before 1944?

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  1. Introduction
  2. Factors that caused the delay
    1. The weakness of feminism
    2. The ideology of universalism
    3. The opposition of the Radical party
  3. Ideological forces against women in politics
  4. Specific analysis of the period before and during World War II
  5. The ordinance of April 21, 1944: 'Women can vote'
  6. Conclusion
  7. Bibliography

France was the first country to establish male universal suffrage but one of the last Western states to institute Universal Suffrage: French women were not granted the right to vote before 1944. Many historians have pointed out this apparent anomaly and have used the idea of ?le retard français?, the French delay. International comparisons support this idea

[...] Since their importance is muted with time, they account only partially for the rejection of the bill granting women the right to vote just before the war and in the inter-war years. Therefore, this essay will then give a specific analysis of this period. One of the recurrent explanations of the late enfranchisement is the weakness of French feminism. Indeed, although France did have a relatively large, organized and active women's suffrage movement, it was indisputably weaker than Anglo-American mass movements. [...]


[...] Firstly, since it did not regard the idea of a French delay, it had to examine why women did not get the vote around the same time as men and not simply after the war. More importantly, all of these forces of resistance I have described, although subdued in the 20th century still partly explain what otherwise is incomprehensible: why a majority of the population still opposed the vote in the inter-war period, and why successive governments would not take any risk to impose a measure they favored. [...]


[...] None of these three interpretations explain perfectly why the idea of women's right to vote brought only laughter among the politicians, and opposition from the great majority of the population in the 19th century. This essay develops the idea as extensively as possible because it has been too little emphasized by many historians that French society as a whole was particularly conservative about the role and status of women. In brief, the idea that women ought to be good ?femmes au foyer? who, of course, should not vote, was shared by an immense majority among French people whatever they be; liberal, progressive or conservative. [...]

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