The vote for women in France: the “referendum” of April 26, 1914

The vote for women in France: the “referendum” of April 26, 1914

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Title: Committee for the Vote of Women under the chairmanship of Maria Verona

Author : BRANGER Maurice Louis (1874 - 1950)

Creation date : 1914 -

Technique and other indications: Meeting of the Committee for the Vote of Women under the chairmanship of Ms Maria Verona, lawyer and feminist (seated, on the right, bare head)

Contact copyright: Maurice-Louis Branger / Roger-Viollet

Picture reference: RV-370631 / 4229-1

Committee for the Vote of Women under the chairmanship of Maria Verona

© Maurice-Louis Branger / Roger-Viollet

Publication date: March 2017

Historical context

The French “suffragist” movement in full effervescence

If several French associations had campaigned for the right to vote of women during the XIXe century, we must wait for the turn of the XXe century to see the "suffragist" ideology really take shape and impose itself, beyond just feminist circles, in social and political debate.

In 1906, a bill by Paul Dussaussoy proposed that women could vote in local elections (“in elections to municipal councils, district councils and general councils”). In 1907, Madeleine Pelletier launched the newspaper “ The Suffragist And in 1909, the French Union for Women's Suffrage (UFSF) was created. Despite these initiatives and the growing activism of those who defend it, women's right to vote is still rejected by the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.

April 26, 1914, the great national daily The newspaper and various suffragist movements such as the French League for the Rights of Women are organizing a “savage” referendum on the sidelines of the legislative elections. To the question "Mesdames, Mesdemoiselles, do you wish to vote one day? "505,972" I wish to vote "ballots were answered against 114 negative ballots.

For The newspaper as with other press titles, numerous photographs relating this historic day were taken and then widely distributed; sometimes later in the form of postcards. We see ballot boxes in the street, voters, rallies, distribution of leaflets and signatures of petitions, but also sometimes, as with Meeting of the Committee for the Vote of Women, the preparations for this April 26.

Image Analysis

At the heart of the preparations for April 26, 1914

This photograph was taken by Maurice-Louis Branger (1874-1950), photographer and creator of the Photopresse reporting agency, known in particular for his many photos representing cultural, political or judicial life in the capital.

On April 26, 1914, the scene takes place in the Paris apartment where the headquarters of the general secretariat of the French League for Women's Rights is located. Several of its members are gathered, who are preparing various documents relating to the referendum on women's suffrage: photos (on the left, which represent a portrait of a feminist figure, possibly Maria Verone herself), leaflets and bulletins will be distributed (sometimes in the form of "pockets" bringing them together). Intended to be plastered in the streets and brandished in various gatherings on April 26, posters "The Woman Must Vote", captioned with the following words "since 1789, the French have demanded from Parliament the declaration of the Rights of Women" and published occasionally by The newspaper cover a good part of the table near which the protagonists of this scene are busy.

The assembly is overwhelmingly made up of women, young and old, quite elegantly dressed, bare heads or wearing hats. Only a man with a mustache (left) and a little boy (right) represent the male sex. Sitting to the right and writing, we can see Maria Verone, journalist, lawyer and famous feminist activist, then president of the French League for Women's Rights.


Behind the Scenes of a Historic Day for Women's Rights

This photograph immerses the viewer in the heart of the preparations, allowing them to see from the inside "behind the scenes" of this unique and special day. The rather intimate atmosphere (we are in a living room) then leads to a certain proximity with its actors. Before expressing itself in public space with more sparkle and noise, April 26th seems to be organized at first with method, determination, responsibility and serenity.

Because on this important day, the atmosphere seems more studious than enthusiastic. The mines are solemn, sometimes serious. The scene would seem almost banal, everyday, were it not for the large posters which recall the object of this meeting and which, by their subtitle, place this claim in a historical-revolutionary perspective by evoking the reference of 1789. The law women's vote would thus be the logical and complementary counterpart of the Declaration of Human Rights.

However, the impression given by this photograph is not that of modern "sans-culottes". On the contrary, it appears that, far from being the rabid or eccentric spirits denounced by their opponents, the feminists at work are well dressed, serious and respectable ladies. It is true that the lecturers and leaders of the various feminist associations most often come from the urban bourgeoisie and are, like the lawyers, accustomed to speaking out.

This cliché also indirectly testifies to the fact that, despite the notable commitment of some men, feminism was still largely a woman's affair in 1914. The ballot was organized by women and for women ("Ladies, Ladies, would you like to vote one day? ").

  • women vote
  • democracy
  • women
  • feminism
  • Universal suffrage


BARD, Christine. Marianne's Daughters: History of Feminisms 1914-1940. Paris: Fayard, 1995.

BARD, Christine. Women in French society in the 20th century, Paris, Armand Colin, 2001

BOUGLE-MOALIC, Anne-Sarah. Le Vote des Françaises, one hundred years of debate, 1848-1944, Rennes, University Press of Rennes, 2012.

HUARD, Raymond. Universal Suffrage in France Paris, Aubier, 1991.

KLEJMAN, Laurence and ROCHEFORT, Florence. "Verona (Maria), 1874-1938", in Dictionary of French intellectuals, dir. Jacques Juillard and Michel Winock, Paris: Seuil, 1996.

To cite this article

Alexandre SUMPF, "The vote for women in France: the" referendum "of April 26, 1914"

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