Suffrage, also known as the right to vote, is something that we Australians have not always had. Australia became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote in federal elections as well as the right to be elected to go to parliament. This was in 1902. 'Suffragettes' was the term used to describe all women who campaigned for the right to vote in elections. From the 1880s, each Australian colony had at least one suffragette society. These societies published leaflets, organised debates, public meetings and letter-writing campaigns. They also arranged deputations to members of their colonial parliament. In 1891, suffragettes gathered 30,000 women's signatures and presented them as a petition to the Victorian Parliament. Even though nowadays men and women are treated equally, that was not the case in those days.
In the 19th century, a woman's place was still very firmly in the home. Although small numbers of women were attending university and seeking a career for themselves, most women's lives were restricted to the home and the exhausting physical work of maintaining a house and raising a family. Even so, whether single, married or widowed, women were courageous in the face of hardship and poverty, and committed to making a better life for themselves and the community. They gave up careers to care for large, extended families. Despite heavy responsibilities, they enjoyed a healthy social life even if it meant more hard work to make it happen.
Nineteenth century civilisation has accorded to women the same political status as to the idiot and the criminal. Such is the basis of our reverence for the person of women and of our estimate of her work. It was men, not women who were involved in political debate. One of the objections raised to the prospect of women voting in elections would be that it would provide married men with double the vote as it was assumed their wives would simply vote for whomever their husbands told them to.
At one of the polling booths ... a novel sight was witnessed. A coach filled with ladies drove up, and the fair occupants alighted and recorded their votes... This was the kind of reaction that the men had in the 1864 state elections some women dared to exercise that right under the new Act. Participation in politics in any form was seen as a solely male responsibility; women were bound by laws but not able to influence them. It was in this context that the women's suffrage movement first evolved in different parts of Australia in the 1880s and 1890s.
Australian women were vocal and forceful in delivering their message. The Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of South Australia printed a leaflet in…