Feminist Challenges and Antifeminist Responses, 1890-1914
Graphic images of sunrise, of storm clouds clearing, of women leading other women to a future of equality and freedom burst from the European women's press of the 1890s and the early twentieth century. Clémentine-Hélène Dufau's artistic poster, commissioned to launch the Parisian daily women's newspaper La Fronde in 1897, joined the cover illustration of the 1904 inaugural issue of Morgonbris, published by Swedish Social Democratic women, in epitomizing feminists' optimistic faith in the progress of their cause.
Between 1900 and 1914--a period that some would later call the belle époque or the birth of "modern times," but others would view as a disturbing era of massive industrialization, urbanization, militarism, imperial expansion, worker unrest, and anarchist violence--virtually every European society developed fissures through which the molten flow of feminist challenge could surge forth. As the twentieth century approached, those fissures would multiply and expand dramatically, and the flow would become a flood with many tributaries. Feminist agitation would capture public attention to an unprecedented degree; the woman question had already emerged as central to debating a broad spectrum of political and socioeconomic issues, ranging from marriage and reproduction to war and peace. In fact, feminist claims in this period would ultimately address a stunningly comprehensive range of issues, and feminists' demand for the vote was their way of insisting that women be formally included in resolving these issues.
To be sure, sisterhood still demonstrated its own rifts--along class, confessional, and even ethnic lines--but it is nonetheless true that instead of oozing slowly up through narrow fissures, feminist challenges threatened to liquefy the crust of patriarchal institutions. Its cumulative success can be gauged by the degree to which feminists and their male allies of varying political persuasions at times succeeded in coordinating their efforts at the local, national, and international levels, and by the