Liberated twice. The political rights of woman, 1918 | online exhibition

The Decree issued by the Chief of State on 28 November 1918, which granted women the right to vote and the right to stand for election, placed Poland amongst the most democratic and progressive European states.

The fact that in the 19th century Poles did not have their own state left a distinctive impression on all aspects of their social and political lives. The Polish lands lacked the freedom necessary to attain economic and civilizational development. This had a considerable influence on both the situation of women, and the suffragette movement which developed in the second half of the century and strove to equate their rights with those of men. Access to education was one of the greatest challenges. There were no universities at all in the Prussian partition, while the authorities in the Russian partition did not permit to educate women at the Russified University of Warsaw. In autonomous Galicia, Polish women were allowed to study at the university – the Jagiellonian – since the 1890s, but only in one of two faculties: medicine or philosophy. Women were also discriminated against in civil law. The partitioning powers patterned their legal systems on the Napoleonic Code, which was in force in the majority of continental European states. Following the death of her husband, a Polish woman would not be entitled to independently bring up her own children and would have only a limited right to inherit; neither would she be able to certify contracts or wills. Basically, the Code made women subordinate to the authority of men in many spheres of life. The situation was worst in the Russian partition, where after the January Uprising (1863) women were punished along with their menfolk who had taken part in the fighting. Imprisonment, deportations, seizures of property and concomitant pauperization became the lot of thousands of Polish women. Political repressions and economic change caused the disproportions already existing between women and men to deepen.