20 January 2011

Was your grandma, in 1890's Victoria, a suffragette?

Your grandma didn't need to have been a suffragette to have had her say in the implementation of universal suffrage, or the vote, in Victoria. All she needed was to have been one of the 30,000 to have put their signature or mark on the petition that was organised by the Victorian women's suffrage movements.

The women's movements of the 1890's in Australia were not the militant suffragette outfits that were well known in other western countries; nor, of course, did they resemble the 'bra-burning' protesters of the 1960's. Feminist policy in 1890's Australia was about social reform, and focused on a woman's position within marriage; her safety and protection from matrimonial violence, her conjugal freedom, a married woman's right to own property, her rights of custody over children, and her rights within the divorce courts.  Temperance movements saw alcohol as a dangerous element within family relations,  causing untold violence and social upheaval. For women to escape conditions of violence and subjugation they needed the support of the legal, welfare and economic systems. The best way to ensure this occurred was seen by many people as by obtaining the vote.

The Victorian Women's Suffrage Petition emerged as part of the campaign used to measure public opinion and sway politicians. Debates for, and against, universal suffrage raged in the popular press. It is likely that everyone had an opinion. The suffragette societies themselves held some widely divergent views about the role of women within society, and how far to take social reform. They did however, agree upon one very important thing, and that was the vote. The Victorian Women's Suffrage Petition represents a collaboration of their combined efforts.

Was your grandmother, or great-grandmother, a signatory on the Victorian Women's Suffrage Petition? If she was an adult in 1891 it is quite likely, as the petition received a great deal of popular support, even from husbands!

This link takes you to the Public Records Office of Victoria's own wiki which tells the story of the 1891 Women's Suffrage petition and has a link for you to search for your ancestors name.