Friday, October 4, 2013

Famous Speech Friday: Jutta Bojsen-Møller's victory for votes speech

(Editor's note: When I asked readers recently for suggestions for Famous Speech Friday posts, it resulted in our first post about a Danish woman speaker. Karoline Henriques not only found this speech and suggested it, but translated it into English as well--above and beyond the call for a reader contribution. Henriques is originally from Denmark, but lives and works in Israel. She's a lover of words, a grassroots feminist and opinionates happily @KarolineHq. Many thanks, Karoline!)

In June 1915, the Danish parliament ratified a new Constitution that fully enfranchised women, people working as servants and other economically marginalised groups. One of the central groups in the fight for women’s suffrage was the Danish Women's Society, which had spearheaded an important victory in 1908 when women obtained political franchise for local elections. The Chairwoman of the Danish Women’s Society at that time was Jutta Bojsen-Møller (1837-1927). She stepped down in 1910, but continued her involvement in the cause, and being perceived as the mother figure of the movement, she delivered moving celebratory speech the day after the change in the Constitution in 1915.

In her short speech, she outlines how women went from not being citizens, to now having the right to vote, and how in the future they will greatly influence the world. At the time, she was 78 years old and her “elder statesman” standing adds gravitas to the air of authority with which her own experiences infuse her words. Bojsen-Møller simultaneously says ‘thank you’ and ‘can we please get to work now’, declaring in her speech women’s dedication to taking on the responsibilities that come with the right to vote.

The speech is in Danish, and a small but charming element runs the risk of being lost in translation: During the reading of the legislation on the day before the speech, Bojsen-Møller was present in Parliament. When it was clear that the law would pass, she cheered from the gallery, and other women followed her lead. This moment seems to be referenced in the text, exemplifying the elated sense of victory: “the new Constitution was ratified by all parties - We had to cheer”.

The political message stands at the core of the text, but she establishes an almost poetic frame as she repeatedly returns to a metaphor speaking of trees persevering in their journey towards the top of the mountain.
Trees that in the face of great adversity, most strikingly from the mountain itself, finally – through small steps forward – covered the mountain, and when they at length lifted their heads over the top of the mountain and look around, exclaimed “Ah! It is a gift to arrive."
But now that we have arrived at the top of the mountain, and look around (as little trees), what do we see: The entire world is an inferno of fire, horrors and misery.  Claudius, in ‘Wandsbecker Bote’, says: “War, war – thankfully I am not to blame.” Yes, we can also say that thankfully we are not to blame, and yet I must say – like Bjørnson – “For we would rather that the land burned down than that it fell.” 
But it should not lead to its fall, and we hope that now – now that we are included, and also will have a part in what happens in the country – that there will be another way to settle strife than to kill each other and burn the land.
What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • When you speak, speak: Her style flows briskly, with long sentences and little variation in the vocabulary. This makes it sound at times almost like an extempore speech, especially in the passages where she is exhilarated: “But now, now we must rejoice, now the sunbeam has returned, and with greater truth than the first time, since now all women and all servants have been included, so that we now in truth can sing: This day – the 5th of June 1915 – will be celebrated by the blue flowers of the field and by the Danish women”. However, the clear structure of the metaphors and the sharp focus indicate that the speaker had planned what she wanted to say. The oratorical style draws the audience in, making it clear that they are being directly addressed and not merely having a paper read to them.
  • Build bridges to opponents: Bojsen-Møller and her movement won the battle as well as the war. But she ends with a strong call for unity as the nation moves forward with the new Constitution. She does so by both acknowledging the opposition (“It is probably the women who are the happiest with the new Constitution”), and clearly appealing to shared values, namely God, King and country. These are also traditional conservative values, and she references them implicitly and explicitly, quoting famous theologians as well as male opinion makers and her own father; speaking respectfully of the late king who signed the first Constitution; and mentioning God when saying women “are sinners just like the men.” Again and again she emphasises that this great day is for Denmark as a whole, and that what matters now is the country. The very last sentence reads like a prayer “King of kings, only you can guard the land of our fathers.”
  • Use the setting: The physical surroundings in which a speech is delivered matter, and can help you illustrate abstract points if you mention the setting to your audience, and provide them with your own interpretation. The ceremonial genre of speeches is an especially good format to play on the blurred lines between the conceptual space your words create and the actual space in which you deliver them. Bojsen-Møller mentions “this mountain”, the present locality, several times, and uses a story of another mountain as a metaphor when she speaks of the struggle to climb the mountain and achieve the goal: “the new Constitution was ratified.” After the speech, the audience had to walk up the steep hill, in the heat of June, wearing their festive – and heavy – clothes. Bojsen-Møller’s words and imagery of labouring to ascend would very likely have echoed in their ears, reminding them of the political struggle that had just been won. This way, the words’ meaning transcended the speech itself.
Read the full text of the speech here, as translated by Karoline. We're entering the 100th anniversary of many voting rights laws, so the suffragists' words will be more frequently seen here on the blog.

If you found this post useful, please subscribe or make a one-time donation to help support the thousands of hours that go into researching and curating this content for you.