The Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society (1884 - 1908)

Anne Lowe

The Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society, the first women’s suffrage society in Australia, was founded in 1884 largely due to the efforts of Henrietta Dugdale and Annie Lowe. Dugdale, very much a ‘freethinker’, claimed to been Victoria’s first activist for women’s suffrage—having publicly advocated women’s suffrage since 1868, along with married women’s property rights and the admission of women to the universities. In 1883 she published a utopian novel, A Few Hours in a Far Off Age, which she used as a vehicle for her then radical ideas about education, marriage, Christianity and rational dress for women. The Society’s platform was ‘To obtain the same political privileges for women as now possessed by male voters’. It had both male and female members.

[Picture] Annie Lowe, founder of the Victorian   Women's Suffrage Society, the first organisation advocating votes for women

The timeline of Women's achievements in Victoria

1834 to 1899

1834

1835

1836

1851

 

1861

1863

 

1869

1869

 

1871

1873

1880

1881

1882

 

1883

 

 

1884

 

 

 

1884-85

1886

 

1887

 

 

1889

 

1890

 

 

 

 

 

1890's

1891

 

 

 

 

1893

1894

 

 

 

 

1895-6

1896

1898

1899

 

 

1900

  • Women's Progressive League - its aims were:
    to secure for women sivil and political rights equal to those of men;
    the general emanciptation and advancement of women;
    the right for women to enter architectural courses and proposed State Agricultural Colleges.
    General reforms included prison and factory legislation, health, and the establishment of Children's Courts. They ran discussion courses on cookery, literature and health, and also conducted house to house canvassing, deputations, petitioning and public meetings and also established suffrage literature.
    The League was a branch of the United Council for Woman Suffrage but independent of it.
    By December there were 32 societies making up the League.
    There were strong connections with the labour movement and the socialists.

     
  • Victorian Women's Suffrage Bill (Mr McLean).

     
  • Victorian Women's Suffrage Bill (Mr H R Williams).

 

1901

  • First Free Kindergarten in Melbourne established in Baptist Hall, Carlton.

 

  • Victorian National Council of Women formed 22 November.
    The four original affiliates were:
    The Australian Salon of Music, Literature and the Arts;
    Jewish Women's Guild;
    Young Women's Christian Association and the
    Women's Christian Temperance Association
    .
    Its aim was to form a link between various societies so that they had an arena for co-operation on specific objectives, these being children's courts and playgrounds and a successful compaign for the establishment of police matrons.
    They reported on the conditions of women in prisons and participated in a number of deputations urging that woman suffrage be made a government measure.
    It had an all-woman executive and 28 affiliated in 1902 then 32 affiliates in 1904.

 

  • Federation of Australian States and Territories.

 

1902

  • Women's Federation formed 26 November.
    Its aims were: to organize women politically around all questions of social reform and matters affecting women in the home and at work; public lavatories for women; Infant Life Protection Act amendments.
    They also took on charity projects.
    There were strong connections with the labour movement.

 

 

 

 

 

  • The first woman to receive a law degree in Australia (Sydney University) was Ada Emily Evans, but she was unable to practice until 1921 after the enactment of the 1918 Women's Legal Status Act of NSW which Ada Evans proposed and for which she lobbied strongly.

 

1903

  • First federal election in Australia. Vida Goldstein became the first woman in the British Empire to stand for parliamentary election when she contested the federal senate election.
    This was the first federal election in which women were eligible to vote and become a candidate.
    She received 50,000 votes in a statewide contest in which the highest vote was 110,000.

 

  • Women won the vote in Tasmania

 

  • Victorian Women's Suffrage Bill (No 1) (Dr Maloney).

 

  • Victorian Women's Suffrage Bill (No 2) (Mr Mackinnon). page 53 31 March, Dr Maloney moved that the following words be added to the motion -
    'Provided that the clauses relating to Women's Franchise eliminated by the Legislative Council be reinstated'.

 

  • Victorian Local Government Act amended to permit married women to vote in municipal elections under a property franchise.

 

  • Victorian Legal Profession Act enabled women to practice in law (known as the 'Flos Grieg Enabling Bill').

 

  • Melbourne Women's Political Association formed in March.
    Its aim was to educate and to organize women to use the vote in federal elections.
    It ran mock elections and parliaments to educate women politically.
    Its political work included petitions for federal marriage and divorce law reform, deputations and test questions to parliamentary candidates.
    The association also worked for Vida Goldstein's campaign as an independent candidate.
    Vida Goldstein was strongly feminist, advocating sexual loyalty and exclusive women's interest.
    She reorganised the Melbourne Women's Political League into the Melbourne Women's Political Association.

 

1904

  • Women's Political Association (formely Melbourne Women's Political Association) formed around 1904. Its aims were: to pursue interests of home, children, sound economy in state and federal governments, and to improve social and industrial conditions. The WPA ran a vigorous campaign for state suffrage in Victoria.

 

  • Victorian Women's Suffrage Bill (Mr Lawson).

 

  • Australian Women's National Club formed in October.
    Its aim was to promote the social side of political life.
    It was the first women's political club in Australia.

 

  • Australian Women's National League formed in March.
    It was formed by men, notably, the Victorian Employers' Federation.
    In 1905 they formed an anti-socialist alliance with the Farmers' League.
    In 1907 they held the first Pan-Australian Conference of Anti-Socialist Women's Organizations (25 October 1907).
    In September 1905 there were 10,000 members and 83 branches.
    Its aim was to elect men of character to politics.
    It espoused patriotism and the sanctity of the home. It was anti socialist in character.
    It supported suffrage and higher education but did not favour widespread emancipation.

 

1905

  • Victorian Adult Suffrage Bill (Legislative Assembly) (Mr Prendergast).

 

  • The first woman was admitted to the Bar in Australia - Greta Flos Matilda Grieg. She was admitted in August under the Victorian Legal Profession Practices Act.

 

1906

  • Victorian Women's Suffrage Bill (Mr Watt)

 

1907

  • Victorian Adult Suffrage Bill (Mr Prendergast).

 

  • Harvester Judgement - McKay versus Harvester works decision handed down on 12 November.
    A basic wage based on the concept of a man, wife and three children was set by Judge Higgins.
    This decision was to influence applications for equal pay until the introduction of the total wage in 1967.

 

1908

  • Victorian Adult Suffrage Bill No 1 (Mr Prendergast).
    All the above attempts met with failure, most being passed by the lower house and rejected by the upper house.

 

  • Victorian Adult Suffrage Bill (No 2) (Sir Thomas Bent) passed both Houses on 24 November.
    Women won the vote.

 

1909

  • Victorian Adult Suffrage Act was proclaimed (after royal assent was given).

 

  • Victorian women win the right to vote, but not the right to stand for parliamentary elections.