“A woman’s opinions are useless to her, she may suffer unjustly, she may be wronged, but she has no power to weightily petitions against man’s laws, no representatives to urge her views, her only method to produce release, redress, or change, is to ceaselessly agitate.”
Louisa Lawson, speech to the inaugural meeting of the Dawn Club. Published in July 1889.
How many people know about the suffragette movement from back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s?
I think many of young women nowadays would have no idea about the movement and that I think is a sad thing, these women work hard for women’s rights.
The term suffragette refers to the mobilisation of the suffrage movement in America, England, Australia and New Zealand between the 1880s and the 1920s.
There were a number of organisations that were instrumental in the struggle for women to be granted the right to vote. The Australian Women’s Suffrage Society was formed in 1889, its aims was to obtain the same rights for women as were possessed by male voters.
They argued for equal justice and equal privileges in marriage and divorce, rights to property and the custody of their children in divorce. So not just for the right for all women to be able to vote in all elections which I think is what most people associate the suffragettes with.
New Zealand women had first in the world to be granted the right to vote in the national election on the 19th September 1893.
In Australia it was South Australian women who were granted the right to vote first in 1894, followed by women in Western Australia in 1899, my state New South Wales granted women the right to vote in 1902, Victorian women were last to get the right to vote in 1908.
Australian women first voted in the second federal election in 1903, except for Aboriginal women. It wasn’t till 1962 that Aboriginal women were granted the right to vote in federal elections.
However, Aboriginal males had the right to vote from as early as the 1850’s although most people would tell you they didn’t get the right to vote till 1967 when there was a referendum to have the constitution changed to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginals and to include them in the census.
However, as I said Aboriginals already had the right to vote although most of them didn’t know it. Legally their rights date back to the colonial times. When New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia wrote their constitutions in the 1850’s then gave the right to vote to all male British subjects over the age of 21 which included Aboriginal males.
In 1895 when South Australia gave women the right to vote and sit in parliament Aboriginal women were included it was in fact only Queensland and Western Australia that barred Aborigines from voting.
Very few Aborigines knew their rights so very few voted. But some eventually did. Point McLeay, a mission station near the mouth of the Murray, got a polling station in the 1890s. Aboriginal men and women voted there in South Australian elections and voted for the first Commonwealth Parliament in 1901.
Most states did not allow women to be elected to the state parliaments until the end of the First World War.
Another key association in the struggle for equal voting rights was the Women’s Christian Temperance Union formed on the 16th November 1887; the society sought social reforms which included establishing equal moral standards for both sexes.