The last Women’s History Month?

Ideas for renewing Women’s History Month Australia? Or for funding the website after 2014? Share them here – post on the blog star at top right!

Women’s History Month Finale: The Great Debate 2014
Held  in the Albert Hall, Canberra on 26 March on the proposition that ‘Australia doesn’t need Women’s History Month’ – collect your souvenir program  and watch the debate now on Canberra Live.

Angela Woollacott, Dawn Casey  & Marilyn Lake
Alix Biggs, Marnie Hughes-Warrington & Anne Summers

Daryl Karp, Tony Taylor & Kim Rubenstein at work

 Media Alert   Media Release

The Debate is now available on Canberra Live and YouTube.

Some background:

Initiated in 1999 with the first celebration in 2000, Women’s History Month Australia was celebrated annually until 2014. Despite the launch of WHM 2002  at Parliament House in Canberra by Senators Margaret Reid and Amanda Vanstone and MHR Carmen Lawrence in 2002, WHM Australia was always a small and voluntary effort.

Compare for instance the one hundred YouTube videos celebrating WHM USA 2014, with WHM Australia’s single offering to mark the finale of 14 years!

The success of Women’s History Month in the USA, a national event since a 1987 resolution of Congress, and in Canada where it was proclaimed in 1992, originally inspired this initiative in Australia.

But here, the celebration of Women’s History Month remained a series of voluntary endeavours, in recent years encouraged and overseen by a small Canberra-based team.

The debate marked the end of Women’s History Month Australia, coordinated online since 2003, a grand finale in which prominent thinkers gathered in the national capital to debate why – or whether – Australia is different.

Check Canberra Live and YouTube

Women’s History Month 2013
The theme for Women’s History Month Australia 2013 was Finding Founding Mothers, identifying women involved in shaping Federation and the new nation of Australia from 1901.

This theme contributed to other commemorations in Australia this year, including Constitution Day on 9 July and the Centenary of the founding of Canberra, the national capital.

Finding Founding Mothers reviewed how we built on women’s achievements in the last hundred years – and of our progress towards our own legacy for the dawn of the 22nd Century. More ..

Visit the Finding Founding Mothers Gallery to share in the federation of ideas!

And check out our network for events and resources overseas, for instance in the USA where Womens’ History Month is a national observance.

The pioneering legacy of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers is revealed not only in our museums and history books, but also in the fierce determination and limitless potential of our daughters and granddaughters.  US President Barack Obama March 2012

Women’s History Month 2012
Browse the WHM 2012 Women with a Plan Gallery, the feature article about how these women architects, town planners and landscape architects contributed to Australian history, and download the Women with a Plan poster.

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Daryl Karp is Director of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House Canberra, a former CEO of Film Australia and a director of the Australian Children’s Television Foundation

Associate Professor Tony Taylor teaches in the  Faculty of Arts and Education at Federation University Australia and was Director of the Commonwealth’s National Centre for History Education 2001-2007, national curriculum consultant to the Commonwealth government 2008-2012 and is a frequent columnist on history education matters

Professor Kim Rubenstein is Director of the ANU Centre for International and Public Law and was founding convenor of the ANU Gender Institute


Professor Angela Woollacott
is Manning Clark Professor of History at the Australian National University, the editor of the Cambridge University Press History for the Australian Curriculum series and the author of many works on women and history

Dr Dawn Casey is Chair of the Indigenous Land Corporation and was founding director of the National Museum of Australia; she is a major contributor to Indigenous policies and to the conservation and interpretation of Australia’s cultural heritage

Professor Marilyn Lake is a University of Melbourne historian and the current president of the Australian Historical Association. Her publications reflect her  special interest in the political history of Australian women include Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism (1999) Faith: Faith Bandler, Gentle Activist (2002) and with Pat Grimshaw, Marian Quartly and Ann McGrath Creating a Nation (1994)

Ms Alix Biggs, ANU student, national and international debater and a former Australian Young Historian of the Year
Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at the Australian National University, historiographer and author of several books including Revisionist Histories (2013) and a winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for University Teacher of the Year
Dr Anne Summers AO
, journalist, author, editor, publisher, head of Australia’s Office of the Status of Women (1983-86) and the author of landmark books from Damned Whores and God’s Police (1975) to The Misogyny Factor (2013)

President Obama Celebrates Women’s History Month in the White House…

 President Obama highlighted the changes seen in the past century:

When I look around this room, it is hard to believe that 100 years ago this month, thousands of women were marching right outside this house demanding one of our most fundamental right: the right to vote, to have a say in our democracy. And today, a century later, its rooms are full of accomplished women who have overcome discrimination, shattered glass ceilings, and become outstanding role models for all of our sons and daughters. And that means we’ve come a long way, and …..


Emma Miller

Emma Miller


In Queensland the path to federation was somewhat different to that of other states. For Queensland women, the question of Federation and the drafting of a constitution were secondary to the matter of achieving suffrage. Indeed, there were no women’s federation leagues established there. This may be partly explained by Queensland’s paradoxical record in the federation movement. Although influential in the early thinking about Federation in the early 1880s and represented at the 1885, 1890 and 1891 gatherings, there were no delegates at the Corowa Convention in 1893 nor at the 1897-98 Convention, brought about by an impasse about the method of electing delegates, and procrastinating premiers. In addition, unlike most of the other colonies, there was only one, the second, referendum to ratify the draft constitution, held in Queensland (September 1899) and that was carried by the smallest margin of any of the colonies, and with a very low turn-out of voters. In Queensland the focus appeared to be on territorial issues rather than on nation-wide issues. The boom in gold and mining industries reinforced Queensland regionalism, reflecting the earlier moves to excise northern and central Queensland to form separate colonies, based on strong regional loyalties.
Pressure groups such as the Australian Natives’ Association were less prominent in Queensland than in NSW and Victoria. Organised labour was also lukewarm about the need for Queensland to embrace Federation and outright opposition came from the farming and business sectors, fearing competition from NSW. It was the only colony with a developed tropical industry – sugar and bananas – which could be threatened by free trade in a federation.
Brisbane and its hinterland were the heartland of resistance because the federation proposal was seen as propelling them into the south-east economic sphere where their interests would be subordinated to Sydney and Melbourne interests.

In the period before an entrenched party system the 15 years of the women’s suffrage campaign between 1890 and 1905 saw seven changes of governor, nine premiers, three state elections, and two federal elections.
It is not altogether surprising, therefore, that the focus of women’s political activity in Queensland in the 1890s was on suffrage and labour matters, rather than on the question of federation. Two women, from very different backgrounds, and with contrasting political allegiances, were pivotal in the context of suffrage and labour reforms. The following notes are a very brief introduction to the activities of these two women, and detailed references for further reading on each of them, and of the suffrage movement in Queensland, are provided below.

Emma Miller (1893 – 1917)
Emma was born in Derbyshire in 1893, the daughter of Martha and Daniel Holmes. Her father was a bootmaker and a chartist, whose political beliefs had a lifelong influence on Emma. She had four children with her first husband, was widowed at 31, and remarried and emigrated to Australia at the age of 40. She was again widowed the following year and remarried her last husband in 1886.
She had worked for her father as a shoebinder and had become familiar with the social problems the industrial revolution brought to towns such as Manchester and Chesterfield where she had moved with her first husband, a bookkeeper. Once in Australia she was in contact with progressive thinkers, such as William Lane, and in had strong links with the labour movement. In her periods of widowhood she returned to her trade of seamstress, describing herself as a ‘gentleman’s white shirt maker”.
It was after her third marriage in 1886, to Andrew Miller, that she became more involved in union affairs, founding with May Jordan in 1890, Brisbane’s first women’s trade union, the Female Workers’ Union, since membership of other trade unions was denied to women. She was also a travelling organiser for the Australian Workers’ Union.
Emma Miller saw the establishment of a workers’ political party, women’s suffrage and equal pay as the means to improve the lives of working people. To this end she was a foundation member of the Workers’ Political Organisation, the forerunner of the Australian Labor Party, and a founding member of the Women’s Equal Franchise Association in February 1894, later becoming President and remaining in that position until 1905 when women were finally enfranchised for state elections in Queensland. She was a determined and effective campaigner, determined that the plural vote be abolished before women’s suffrage could be achieved, a stand supported by the labour movement with which Miller involved the WEFA more and more.
She is considered the mother of the Labor Party and was proud to be known as ‘Mother Miller’. She is remembered by a bust in the Trades Hall and a statue in King George Terrace.

Léontine Cooper (1837 – 1903)
Less is known of the early life of Léontine Buisson, the daughter of a French merchant and an Englishwoman, before her marriage to Edward Cooper, a surveyor, in London in 1869, and their emigration to Australia in 1871. In Brisbane she taught, first in a government school and then at Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School, and later turned to journalism, contributing articles and short stories for William Lane’s The Boomerang and Louisa Lawson’s The Dawn. She was concerned about the failure of the law to protect women and women’s lack of property rights and believed that central to women’s lack of rights was the lack of their right to vote.
She was the founding Vice-President of the Women’s Equal Franchise Association, formed in 1894, but resigned shortly after over disagreement over the organisation’s objectives and its ideological approach to women’s suffrage. The WEFA sought the vote for women on the basis of one-adult-one-vote, whereas some of its members, Cooper among them, sought the extension of the vote to women on the same basis as men, which might have involved the perpetuation of the plural vote.
Léontine led a breakaway group from the WEFA to form, within a month, the Women’s Suffrage League, an organisation with a more conservative bent, but one which continued its campaign until the turn of the century, and published a suffrage paper, The Star, between 1894 and 1985.
She died suddenly in 1903, sadly before she was able to cast a vote in the Commonwealth election on 16 December.
Further reading:

Léontine Cooper
Australian Women’s Register entry
Jordan, Deborah. ‘There is no question more perplexing at the present time and more frequently discussed than women’s place in society: Léontine Cooper and the Queensland Suffrage Movement, 1888-1903’. Hecate, vol. 30, no. 2, October 2004. A link to the article is here.
And many mentions in the works of Lees and Oldfield (below).

Emma Miller
Australian Dictionary of Biography entry
Young, Pam. Proud to be a rebel: the life and times of Emma Miller. St Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1991.
Young, Pam. ‘Emma Miller and the campaign for women’s suffrage in Queensland, 1894-1905.’ Memoirs of the Queensland Museum: Cultural Heritage Series, vol. 2, no. 2, 2002.
Queensland suffrage movement
Centenary of Queensland Women’s Suffrage
Lees, Kirsten. Votes for Women: the Australian story. St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1993
McCulloch, John. The Suffragists: 100 years of women’s suffrage in Queensland. Rockhampton: Central Queensland University Press, 2005.
McCulloch, John. ‘Why frontier Queensland beat urbane Victoria to women’s suffrage.’ Victorian Historical Journal, vol. 79, no. 2, November 2008
Oldfield, Audrey. Women suffrage in Australia: a gift or struggle? Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University press, 1992 (Queensland chapter)

Background to federation
Irving, Helen (ed). A Woman’s constitution: gender and history in the Australian Commonwealth. Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1996
Irving, Helen (ed). The Centenary companion to Australian Federation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999 (chapter on Queensland by Geoffrey Bolton and Duncan Water

Northern Territory

Northern Territory Women

In 2013 Canberra celebrates its centenary with a year-long program of new and exciting projects. The Canberra-based Australian Women’s History Forum will celebrate the month of March, including International Women’s Day on 8 March, by drawing attention to our Founding Mothers of Federation.

Our Territory Women database includes brief stories for the 82 women who participated in the Suffrage movement in the Northern Territory – just by placing their names on the 1895 Electoral Roll.

The Northern Territory has its own special story to tell…

Evlampia Holtze was born at her home in the Darwin Botanic Gardens on May 31 1896, approximately one month after her mother, Annie Holtze, voted in a landmark election. (Evlampia is seen above with her mother; with a friend playing tennis; and in her wedding dress.)

Annie was 37, a teacher married to Nicholas when she placed her name on the 1895 Electoral Roll, giving her the right to vote. The Northern Territory Times of the 1 May 1896 reported large numbers of women voting in that election, with enrolled women out-numbering men in two of the South Australian electorates. A change in legislation meant that South Australian women had become the only Australian women to be able to vote and stand for parliament and since South Australia was responsible for the Northern Territory at that time, Northern Territory women also gained the franchise.

On 5 November 1889, Mr J. Caldwell introduced a Bill to the South Australian House of Assembly to grant the franchise to women. It took five further years of struggle, but on 21 December 1894 and despite vehement opposition from Vaiben L Solomon, the Territory’s Senior Member in the South Australian Legislative Assembly, the Northern Territory Times reported that, “the Woman’s Suffrage Bill (which by then was known as the Adult Suffrage Bill) has passed all stages in South Australia.”

It had been passed by a vote of 28 to 11. The Bill was assented to in February 1895 and gazetted on 21 March, giving South Australian women (including the women from the Northern Territory) the right to vote for the House of Assembly and stand for parliament.

Preparations were made to enrol eligible women and one year later the first election was held in which women could exercise their new rights. Women had to be at least 21 years of age and either own freehold property to the clear value of £30 or a registered leasehold of £20 with three years to run, or right of purchase, or the occupancy of a dwelling house to the clear annual value of £25.They also had to be registered for six months prior to an election.

Regulations were publicised through the newspaper. Women were instructed to list their marital status as their occupation on the roll, but some women boldly registered as teachers, nurses and hotelkeepers. The registration process closed on 11 April 1896; on 25 April 1896 (in South Australia) and on 2 May 1896 (in the Northern Territory) women went to the polls for the first time. The Returning Officer for the election was Mr Nicholas Holtze, husband to Annie Holtze; Government Secretary and Curator of the Botanic Gardens from 1895 until 1912. The first “woman’s vote” was officially cast on Thursday 30 April via the post, as allowed under the new legislation.

No woman stood for election, so the contest was between three male candidates: Vaiben Solomon; Walter Griffiths and Frederick Finniss. Fred Finniss was the only candidate to have supported the women’s suffrage movement and it was anticipated that the women’s vote could make a significant difference to the results; however, Solomon and Griffiths were the successful candidates to be returned to the South Australian House of Assembly.  Solomon went on to become a member of the Australian Federation Convention in 1897 and the Convention that framed the Australian Constitution in 1897-98, before his election to the inaugural Australian Federal Parliament in 1901 as a Free Trade Member for South Australia. Griffiths held his seat until his death, becoming well known for his support for the separation of Western Australia.

Whilst the Commonwealth Franchise Act of 1902 altered the electoral rules once again, the Commonwealth had the right to enlarge the franchise of any state, but not curtail it, so women of the Territory continued to have the franchise rights fought for and won by their mothers.

Evlampia went on to lead an active life in Darwin where she married and had a family,

Her mother, Annie Holtze, had helped to earn Evlampia the right to participate fully in political affairs.

Contributed by:

Louise Paynter


Jessie Spink Tasmanian Department of Premier and Cabinet

Jessie Rooke – Courtesy of Tasmanian Department of Premier and Cabinet

Jessie Spinks Rooke (1845-1906)

Jessie Rooke was a Tasmanian suffragist and temperance reformer. Her story demonstrates the strong influence of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in campaigning for votes for women.

According to Vicki Pearce, “Jessie Rooke was one of the first women to gain prominence outside Tasmania.” In a memorial service held by the WCTU, she notes, “six of her women colleagues gave testament to her self-denying labour to the cause”. When women got the vote, Rooke said it would be proven that the “gentler sex” would use the privilege in the interest of “all that is pure and lovely and of good report”.

Born in London, Rooke arrived in Australia in about 1867. In Sydney, she became prominent in the British Women’s Bible and Prayer Union and the WCTU. She moved to Tasmania in the early 1890s where she became president of the Burnie branch of the WCTU in 1894 and of the state branch in 1898.

The WCTU became the focus of the women’s suffrage movement in Tasmania. In 1896 Rooke set out on a votes-for-women tour of Tasmania with the suffrage superintendent for the colony – Georgina Kermode. Wherever they went large groups turned up to meet the women. They collected campaign funds and distributed leaflets and put their case that “the Franchise should be extended to women as an act of common justice”.

The 1896 and 1897 campaigns each resulted in some 2000 signatures. The Legislative Council defeated bills to amend the Tasmanian suffrage in both years, but Rooke reassured her members their efforts kept the issue prominent. The union obtained a further 5500 signatures to support a referendum bill in 1898.

Rooke was also heavily involved in the National Council of Women, established in 1899, which worked closely with the WCTU in the suffrage campaign. As a WCTU delegate to the International Council of Women Conference in Washington in 1902, she supported Vida Goldstein in the campaign of the United Council of Women’s Suffrage for federal adult suffrage.

Becoming Australasian president of the WCTU in 1903, Rooke also founded the Tasmanian Women’s Suffrage Association, which attracted a membership beyond those interested mainly in moral and temperance issues.

It mobilised women for the forthcoming federal election, as the Commonwealth Franchise Act had been passed the previous year. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the Tasmanian Legislative Council conceded the state vote for white women.  After this was achieved, the association continued “to interest women in all laws relating to women and children”, educate members on wider political questions and encourage women to enrol.

It urged women to use their right to vote in federal elections. Women did not become eligible to stand for election to either Tasmanian House of Parliament until 1921.

Jessie Rooke was a hard worker, an inspiring speaker and a good mediator, highly respected by her fellow workers. She died on 4 January 1906 at South Burnie and is buried in Wivenhoe (Burnie) cemetery.


Faye Gardam, “Rooke, Jessie Spink (1845–1906)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,

“Jessie Spinks Rooke,” entry in Getting It Together: From Colonies to Federation – Tasmania, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Canberra, 2009

“Jessie Rooke,” from Tasmania, Dept of Premier and Cabinet: Significant Tasmanian Women.

Jordan, Renee, “Jessie Spink Rooke”, entry in Companion to Tasmanian History, edited by Alison Alexander, University of Tasmania Centre for Tasmanian Studies, 2006.

Pearce, Vickie, “A Few Viragos on a Stump: the womanhood suffrage campaign in Tasmania 1880-1920”, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Vol. 32 No. 4 1985 pp.151-164.

The Tasmanian Government website has created an online exhibition: Women and the the right to vote  

South Australia




Catherine Helen Spence, aged 84

An Eminent Federalist and Political Pioneer

In 1902, a leading Australian publisher honoured Catherine Helen Spence for her contribution to the creation of the Australian Constitution in a series called ‘Eminent Federalists’.  Spence had sought election five years earlier as one of the South Australian representatives to the second Constitutional Convention, thus becoming Australia’s first woman political candidate.  Spence stood for election so she could champion a long-held belief that election results decided by a simple majority did not adequately represent minorities.  She argued that a truer, more equitable form of democracy would be achieved by what she termed Effective Voting (also called proportional representation or the single transferable vote).  Although Spence did not receive sufficient votes to take part in the Convention, her campaign for Effective Voting played a major role in the debates concerning Australia’s new Constitution.  Ultimately her efforts were not in vain –  voting systems in many jurisdictions in Australia, especially Tasmania, the ACT and the State upper houses, use proportional representation.

Spence the electoral reformer

Spence, a single woman living in Adelaide with limited financial resources, largely supported herself and her widowed mother by teaching, publishing novels and writing for  newspapers.  Although formal education had ended when she was only 14, Spence’s inquiring mind led her to read widely in the areas of social, economic and political affairs.  She admired the English political philosopher John Stuart Mill, for instance, and his review in the late 1850s of a book by Thomas Hare had a great impact on her.  Unhappy with electoral results based on a simple majority vote,  witnessed in her home state of South Australia, Spence believed this system insufficiently represented society’s minority groups.  Hare, a British parliamentarian and lawyer, had argued in his book that introducing proportional representation would redress such inequities and lead to fairer voting results.

Articles she wrote for the Mebourne Argus supporting Mill and Hare failed to be published so, with financial support from her brother, Spence published a private pamphlet in 1861.  Written in what she later called ‘the white heat of inspiration’,  A Plea for Pure Democracy urged the adoption of Hare’s system, with one important modification.  Because Spence believed that Hare’s proposal to have one electorate for the whole country was  not practical for Australia, she proposed instead a large number of multi-member constituencies, ideally electing up to nine or ten members.   One thousand copies of her pamphlet were distributed and Spence made sure they went to all South Australia’s MPs and leading citizens.

Over the next thirty years many other matters claimed Spence’s attention – social and charitable reform work (especially affecting women and children), travel overseas, guardianship of several orphaned children, writing and submitting novels and publishing newspaper articles and commentary.  So many issues occupied her time that it might have been seemed that Spence had lost interest in electoral reform, but this was far from the truth.

By 1891 Spence had become a supporter of the movement for female suffrage  and a year later became Vice-President of the Women’s Suffrage League in South Australia. When the Women’s Suffrage Bill was enacted in 1894, it entitled all South Australian women to vote and also to stand for election – a first for all Australian states.  Spence went on to support similar campaigns in Victoria and NSW,  unaware that she herself would be the first woman to stand for election in Australia.

By now an accomplished and effective public speaker, Spence was encouraged in 1892 to undertake a lecture tour on Effective Voting through South Australia. The following year she agreed to travel to the US as a Government Commissioner and a delegate to the Great World’s Fair Congress in Chicago.  During this trip she gave over 100 lectures, mostly in support of proportional representation.  Back home and with the financial assistance of a long time supporter, Robert Barr Smith, Spence formed the Effective Voting League of South Australia in 1895.​​

Keen to pursue her cause in the federal sphere, Spence then attempted to influence the debates leading towards Federation.  Her pamphlet What is Effective Voting and How is it to be Secured? set out a clear account of the advantages of what had become known by then as the Hare-Spence system.  Spence ended  the pamphlet with the rallying words ‘let South Australia and South Australian women lead the way’.

Encouraged by her supporters, Spence agreed to stand as a candidate for South Australia to the Constitutional Convention of 1897.  She was not disgraced, coming 22nd out of 33 candidates, and believed her campaign had raised the profile of Effective Voting.  She continued to argue through 1899 and 1900 for the introduction of proportional representation at the Federal level.  Her ideas  proved significant in the debates surrounding the 1902 Commonwealth Electoral Bill and close examination of the records show there were many informed references by those taking part to the advantages of the Hare-Spence system.

In 1902, the United Australia Magazine in its series on ‘Eminent Federalists’ recognised Spence’s political contribution, commenting that  ‘in 1897 there was really only one woman who took a strong interest and endeavoured to have an influence on the debate towards Federation … a pioneer in the political arena of Australia… eminently qualified to enter the circle and take her place as a legislator’.

In the penultimate year of her long life, Spence attended the inaugural meeting of the Women’s Non-Party Political Association and was elected Foundation President.  She  continued to champion Effective Voting pointing out that women had much to gain by supporting it – ‘only by staying independent and not allying themselves with any political parties can women hope to exert influence’.

Spence’s influence reached across Australia and beyond during her lifetime and she became a symbol of what Australian women could aspire to and achieve.  Spence’s said of herself that she was ‘a new woman …awakened to a sense of capacity and responsibility, not merely to the family and the household, but to the State.’  When she died on 13 April 1902 she was widely mourned as ‘The Grand Old Woman of Australia’.  She had worked for many important causes but Effective Voting and electoral reform were probably her greatest legacies.  The struggle for a fairer form of democracy continued after her death and over time proportional voting systems were introduced in many jurisdictions in Australia.  During  the Centenary of Federation celebrations, almost 100 years after her death, Spence was fittingly commemorated on the five dollar bill for her contribution to Australia’s Federal system.

Spence’s early life and other career highlights

Born near Melrose in Scotland on 31 October 1825, Spence was the fifth of eight children. Plans for her to attend  an advanced school for girls in Edinburgh had to be abandoned when the family’s finances failed.  Emigration to the relatively new colony of South Australia followed in 1839 and her formal education ended. After her father’s death, Spence’s father became a governess, for a short time  running a small school with her mother.

Spence is regarded as the first woman writer in Australia to write novels that  focused on life in Australia. Her novels championed the causes of those disadvantaged by bigotry, and she wrote about woman’s dependent status, the plight of illegitimate children and their right to legal recognition, and the inadequacy of divorce laws.   Her eventual success as a journalist made her Australia’s first professional woman journalist.

Spence was active in various women’s and children’s causes. Focusing on education and financial independence, her work covered labour reform, the State Children’s Council, the Destitute Board, the Boarding Out Society, and the initiation of Childrens’ Courts in South Australia.  She was active in a number of organisations, including the Effective Voting League of South Australia and the Women’s Non-Party Political Association.


Eade, Susan, ‘Spence, Catherine Helen (1825–1910)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,

Farrell, David M. and Ian McCallister “1902 and the origins of preferential electoral  systems in Australia” in Australian Journal of Politics and History v.51, no.2, 2005

Ever yours, C.H. Spence, edited by Susan Magarey with Barbara Wall, Mary Lyons and Mayan Beams, Kent Town, Wakefield Press, 2005

Magarey, Susan, Unbridling the tongues of women: a biography of Catherine Helen Spence, Adelaide, University of Adelaide Press,(1985; 2010)

Catherine Helen Spence, edited by Helen Thomson, St Lucia, University of Queensland, 1987

State Library of South Australia

Contributed by:

Pamela Harris



Vida Goldstein c1902, National Library

Vida Jane Goldstein (1869–1949)

Victoria was the first of Australia’s colonies to organise for women’s suffrage – and the last to gain the vote. Without the right to elect their parliamentarians, Victorian women were unable to vote on Federation in the Referendums of 1898 and 1899.

Yet the suffrage movement was no less vigorous – nor the women involved no less vibrant advocates of citizenship equality – than in the other five Australian colonies. In 1884 a group of women including Henrietta Dugdale and Annie Lowe formed the Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society and were joined by other prominent activists like Annette Bear-Crawford and Isabella Goldstein. As in the other colonies, the fight was shared by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), formed in Victoria in 1887.

Federalist and feminist

Ten years after they had taken up the fight for the vote, some women were joined by their daughters – one of these young women was Vida Goldstein, whom became a leading ‘Founding Mother of Federation’. She was 19 when she helped her mother collect signatures for an historic petition to the Victorian Parliament, the huge Woman Suffrage Petition of 30 000 signatures presented in the Parliament in 1891.

This was in the early years of the Federation movement that gathered strength through the intercolonial congresses of the 1890s. In Victoria as elsewhere the ideals and arguments for a new united nation echoed for suffragists their own case for equal citizenship.

As well as campaigning for the same voting rights for women and men, these organisations worked for equality in property rights, marriage and divorce, and the custody of children – in other words, the key barriers to women’s participation as equal citizens. By 1894 there were numerous groups working for these goals and Annette Bear-Crawford formed the United Council for Women’s Suffrage (UCWS) to coordinate the efforts of the numerous suffrage societies.

When Annette Bear-Crawford died in 1899, her protégée Vida Goldstein became leader of the women’s reform movement in Victoria when she made her first speech on the suffrage platform. That was also the year of the final Referendum when the Colony’s voters gave a resounding ‘Yes’ to the question of Federation.

An impressive speaker whose witty responses could disarm the most abusive heckler, Vida Goldstein was an articulate advocate for suffrage and equality for women. She read widely on politics, economics and law and spent long hours in the visitors’ gallery at the Victorian Parliament House absorbing debate and procedure.  learned procedure while campaigning for a wide variety of reformist legislation.

Western Australia

Miss Franchise look at that hussy (Miss Federation) but that's the way with all men Western Mail 16 June 1899

Miss Franchise: ‘Look at that hussy Miss Federation – but that’s the way with all men’ Western Mail 16 June 1899

Two organisations focussed on women’s suffrage and federation were created in Western Australia in the early 1890s.  The first was the international Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) formed to foster ‘Social purity, total abstinence, and womanhood suffrage’.  The second was the politically well-connected literary and cultural society, the Karrakatta Club for women. Amongst its strengths the Karrakatta Club fostered members’ public speaking skills.  A third organisation, the Women’s Franchise League, was formed in 1899 with an Executive of women ‘faddists’ drawn from these two organisations, plus key male politicians and supporters in the colony. This organisation deliberately set out to broaden the participation of women of all socio-economic status in the debate on women’s suffrage.

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Women’s History Month event at State Library of South Australia

SA Life Finding Founding Mothers

March 18 @ 6pm, State Library of SA

In the State Library of South Australia’s historic Institute building, hear about SA leading light Catherine Helen Spence from her biographer, Professor Susan Magarey.  Learn about her domestic life through to her work on the national stage.

Then take a Founding Mothers’ tour through the Library wing named in honour of Spence and onto the glorious Mortlock Chamber, where we’ll serve refreshments while your browse the historic exhibitions.

Women Making History

Women Making History: Writers, Thinkers, Makers, Icons 1700–1900.
Tuesday 12 March to Wednesday 19 June 2013

An exhibition at The Johnston Collection, In Melbourne, of interest… this includes examples of literature, garments and artefacts associated with the early stages of the women’s rights movement.

To visit this exhibition phone: +61 3 9416 2515 or email:

(Visitors are collected by courtesy bus from the foyer of the Hilton on the Park Hotel, 192 Wellington Parade, East Melbourne)

New South Wales

Although women in the latter half of the nineteenth century were prevented from equal participation in parliamentary politics, many were active in pursuing educational, social and political reform. Their efforts seriously hampered by their inferior legal status, particularly their lack of the vote, in New South Wales as in the other colonies, they formed political organisations and lobbied hard for the franchise.

Maybanke Susannah (Wolstenholme) Anderson (1845–1927)


Lone Hand 2 February 1914 National Library of Australia

One such reformer who worked strenuously for both women’s suffrage and for federation was Maybanke Susannah Wolstenholme as she was known at this time of her activity.  Her interest in woman suffrage was driven by her understanding that only with the vote could women achieve the social changes she saw were so necessary and her interest in federation was an expression of her belief that it was the way to force the states, who were reluctant to join SA and WA in granting women the vote, to do  Continue reading

First Ladies – Significant Australian Women 1913-2013

First Ladies profiles women who have achieved noteworthy firsts over the past 100 years. The focus display includes Australia’s first female Governor General, Quentin Bryce; Elizabeth Blackburn, the first Australian-born woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize; and aviatrix Nancy Bird Walton, Australia’s first female commercial pilot. First Ladies maps the milestones accomplished by Australian women across diverse fields of endeavour, from politics, activism and academia to sport, science and business, taking in the stories of household names as well as unsung heroines.

First Ladies

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra:   1 February – 16 June 2013

Canberra Women

Currently at the Canberra Museum and Gallery, in Gallery 5, an exhibition of interest: The Women Who Made Canberra.

As Canberra’s centenary year approaches, CMAG is celebrating the experiences of women in Australia’s national capital. Tribute is paid to the stories and achievements of a selection of women, bringing to light how they have shaped, and been shaped by, life in Canberra. Runs until Sunday, 17 March. Cnr. London Circuit and Civic Square, Canberra City.

WHM event 15 May 2012

Women with a Plan: Challenges and Opportunities

Panel Discussion with established and emerging designers and planners

Mortlock Chamber, State Library of South Australia

5:30 for 6:00,  15 May 2012        Bookings essential

For further information

Margaret Hendry 1930-2001

Margaret Hendry

Most of Canberra has been planned and designed by men and Margaret Hendry is one of the few women who have played a significant role in shaping the landscape of Australia’s national capital.

From 1963 to 1974 Margaret Hendry was a landscape architect with the National Capital Development Commission – the first woman appointed and one of only five female landscape architects in Australia at that time. She worked on the landscape of town centres, shopping centres, parks and playgrounds, schools, cemeteries, and large recreation areas.

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Barbara van den Broek 1932-2001

Barbara van den Broek

Described as ‘a woman for all seasons’ Barbara van den Broek was a registered architect, town planner and landscape architect, as well as a person committed to lifelong learning.

A founding member of the Queensland Institute of Landscape Architects in 1965, she later served terms as secretary, and as president from 1973-75.

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Jean Verschuer 1925-

Entrance to a stone building with trees in the foreground.Jean Verschuer, Lady Brodie-Hall is a prominent and respected West Australian landscape architect.

During the 1960s Jean Verschuer worked with the architectural firms of Forbes and Fitzhardinge and Summerhayes and Associates and was consultant to large public companies, private firms, government agencies and local councils on a range of projects. These included standard-gauge railway stations, the Salvation Army village in Hollywood Western Australia, and the design of major mining towns and their surrounds.

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Margaret Feilman 1921-

Margaret FeilmanMargaret Feilman OBE was Perth’s first female town planner. She also had a successful career as an architect and landscape designer and was an early advocate for identifying and protecting  built heritage.

A founding member of the Western Australian Town Planning Institute in 1950, she was also – in 1959 – a founding member of the Western Australian branch of the National Trust of Australia.

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Marjorie Simpson 1924-2003

Marjorie Simpson
South Australian architect Marjorie Constance (White) Simpson became the first female Life Fellow of the state chapter of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects in 1993.

She and her architect husband Peter Simpson worked for the Commonwealth Department of Works in Sydney and then in Adelaide. They designed their own home in both cities; their commissions included design and documentation of the Woomera Rocket Range in 1951.

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Judith Macintosh 1923-2009

Judith MacintoshJudith (Moreau) Macintosh graduated from the University of Sydney in 1944 with honours in architecture, winning several major awards that showed her early brilliance.

The first woman to receive the University Medal in architecture, her plans for a modernist, curtain-wall skyscraper office building won the University’s Sulman Prize for Design.  The architectural plans for this building have now been recognised as being astonishingly progressive for their time.

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