Iceland’s double centenary
Icelanders are celebrating a double landmark today as 19 June 2015 marks the 100th of two national events: the extension of the vote to women and the official introduction of the current Icelandic flag.
Women receive the vote
A century ago, the Danish king Christian X ratified a law passed by the Icelandic Parliament (‘Alþingi’) extending the right to vote in general elections and stand for public office for the very first time to women (over the age of forty).
Ever since then, 19 June has been known as ‘Women’s Rights Day’ in Iceland.
The women’s suffrage movement in Iceland has its first landmark in 1882, when women received limited rights to vote in local elections. Alþingi first passed legislation on equal voting rights for men and women in 1911, but this was blocked by the Danish authorities. Iceland was at this time still part of Denmark, albeit with its own constitution and home rule.
In 1915, women over forty years of age were given the vote in general elections, and by 1920 voting rights for women and men were equal. Iceland’s first female MP, Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason, was voted to Alþingi in 1922.
Today, in order to celebrate the centenary, various State and private companies are giving their employees the day or afternoon off work.
Iceland was one of the first countries in the world to grant women suffrage at national level. Among the countries with legislation before Iceland’s are New Zealand (1893), Australia (1902) and Finland (1906).
A new flag for Iceland
On the very same day as this momentous development, King Christian X also issued a royal decree establishing the national flag of Iceland as we know it today.
According to Hörður Lárusson, graphic designer and leading expert on the Icelandic flag, “There was a newspaper advertisement in 1913 asking the general public to submit proposals [for an Icelandic flag]. There is no official information on who designed the flag, although there are various opinions and theories.”
Popular interpretations of the colours of the Icelandic flag are that the blue, white and red represents the Icelandic sky, snow and volcanic fire.
Public bodies may only hoist the Icelandic flag on designated ‘flag days’, of which there are twelve in the year. The last flag day was on Wednesday (17 June, National Day) and the next will be on 16 November, the National Day of the Icelandic language.