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Josefina Álvares, Leolinda Dantro, Celina Guimarães and Bertha Lutz: the suffragists of the female vote in Brazil

As the great politic and feminist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir once said “being a woman is a sequence of ‘no’ experiences”. In Brazil, especially when it comes to politics and women’s rights, they never had their voices heard.

Women’s political and citizen right to vote was institutionally registered and ensured in the Constitution of 1934. However, this discussion was already on the surface during the Proclamation of the Republic, in 1889. The change of the political system enthused those women who were expecting to vote in favor of other women to represent them in the government. At this time, women could vote only after the decision of the Electoral Court, which means that our vote was an exception, not a rule as it should have been.

In the same year, the feminist and journalist Josefina Álvares de Azevedo wrote: “Will the star of the Brazilian Republic shine as bright as our start of women’s emancipation?”. Josefina, despite her efforts, including writing a comedy called “O voto feminino” (“The female vote”), our star still had a long way till it shines. In fact, in some aspects, we are still trying to shimmer.

Although Josefine had written a series for the A Família, a newspaper she founded in Rio de Janeiro, men used to think that women didn’t really worry about politics. While men closed their ears to our voice and claims – as usual – many women were already working to turn this situation on and finally get their fundamental right to vote. 

Protests and movements

In 1910, the indigenous expert and suffragist Leolinda Dantro founded the Partido Republicano Feminino (Women’s Republican Party) and seven years later, her Party led a group of ninety women protesting for the extension of the female vote in Brazil.

Only two years later, many women were already getting used to hearing the name “Bertha Lutz” when the matter was female vote. Lutz was a biologist who founded the Liga para a Emancipação Intelectual da Mulher (League for the Intellectual Emancipation of Women), in 1919, and then, she represented our country at the General Assembly of The League of Women Voters, in the United States.

A few days after that, Bertha came back to Brazil and founded the Federação Brasileira para o Progresso Feminino (Brazilian Federation for Female Progress), an institution that replaced the one from 1919 and started for real the fight for women’s rights. In 1934, Bertha ran for parliament. After her election, Bertha fought for polemic matters such as women employment, wage equality and much more.

The first female vote

At the meantime, when Bertha was running for parliament, Celina Guimarães became the first Brazilian woman to vote. In 1927, due to the Brazilian states autonomy about electoral law, Rio Grande do Norte state determined that, since there was no clear law in the Constitution that stops women from voting, there would no longer exist any sex distinction for voters at the state.

Finally, on October 25th, Celina Guimarães name was the first to be included in the Rio Grande do Norte voters. In fact, her name was the first female one in all Latin America. But it’s important to emphasize that Celina, influenced by the Bertha Lutz movement, was a progressive teacher and also worked as a soccer referee from 1917 to 1919.

However, the Electoral Court considered her vote – and other women’s votes after hers – “impossible to count”. It’s what they say: every women act causes a man’s aggressive reaction.

As mentioned above, even more than a hundred years after the beginning of the female vote discussion and claims, our star – as Josefine said – has not yet shone properly. We’ve got a lot of work done, but there is still much more to do for women from all over the world. 

👯‍♀️ Related: #5 Books Written by Women That Will Help You Understand Politics

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The article above was edited by Amanda Moraes.

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Julia Maciel

Casper Libero '24

Writting to provide knowledge. Knowledge changes the world. You can change the world. Majoring in Journalism at Cásper Líbero. Instagram: @juubritom