First-Wave Feminism: The Enfranchisement of Women in Australia

NOTE: This post was submitted as an assignment in Modern History. There is a bibliography.

Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social and economic equality to men (Google Definitions, 2011, Online; Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences, 2011, Online). Feminism has previously been fought through movements, or waves, in which people campaigned for women to be given the same rights, and privileges, as men. The three main waves of feminism focused on different aspects of a woman’s life. The three waves of feminism have all lead to better lives for women all around the world. The focus of this speech however, will be on the first wave of feminism and the enfranchisement of women in Australia. During the late 1800s interest developed among the Australian people about feminism and women’s suffrage as a result of people debating and discussing these topics, and publications starting to circulate between the colonies and Great Britain. Through the actions and heavy campaigning of various individuals and groups in Australia during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 was passed and women were given the right to vote federally, which changed their lives for the better by making them ‘full’ citizens of Australia. Although the first wave of feminism was a progressive movement historically, it still did not stamp out all gender inequalities that existed at the time. The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 would not have been achieved without the campaigning and actions undertaken by various individuals and groups in Australia as these groups put pressure on the public and politicians, which helped in securing the majority required for the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 Bill to be passed in Parliament. The individuals and groups fighting for the enfranchisement of women came across a lot of opposition which they managed to defeat. The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 changed the lives of Australian women and made their lives better by granting them the right to vote which gave them a say in who would lead their country and who would represent them in Parliament. It is important to note however, that the first wave of feminism did not solve all gender equalities, such as the right to your own body and equal pay.

The first wave of feminism took place between the late 1800s and early 1900s and was the first noted major, modern, western feminist movement. The main focus of the first wave of feminism was the franchise, or the right to vote. Australia in the late 1800s had a completely different social climate and was an extremely patriarchal society, in which the eldest male was seen as the ‘head’ of the household. Established author Rebecca Cadden’s essay, published in 2001 for the Women’s Suffrage Secretariat, titled “The three waves of feminism,” proves that “in this time it was still lawful for a man to beat his wife, so long as he does not use a stick thicker than his thumb (Cadden, R, 2001, Online). Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse, acts which are illegal in this modern time, were legal in the late 1800s, proving how different Australian society was during this time. During this time period, once a woman was married, any land or money she had possession, or ownership, of was immediately transferred to her husband and if a woman’s husband said he did not want his wife to have access to their children the woman was, by law, prohibited from having access to her children. In the feminist journal The Dawn, which was considered a radical publication’ for the late 1800s, an article titled “The Strike Question” tells what the life of a wife was like in 1890: “A wife has no time to think of her own life and development, she has no money, it is her husband’s money, the complete right to her children is not yet legally hers, and she is not even in independent possession of her own body” (Anon, 1890. Cited in Anon. 2001, Online). In the late 1800s a woman was essentially not a citizen, as she held no vote or say in the election of Parliament, or the passing of Legislation which could affect her everyday life. The first leaflet issued by the Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society during their campaign for the enfranchisement women, gave examples of when women were considered to be citizens and when they were not. An example of this is: “Are women citizens? Yes, when they are required to pay taxes. No, when they are asked to vote.” (Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society, Unknown. Cited in Australian Broadcasting Company, 1998, Online). Obvious gender inequalities were seen in the late 1800s, and it was clear to many Australians that a change was needed so Australia could become the progressive, inclusive society it is today.

The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 would not have been achieved without the actions and campaigning of various individuals and suffrage groups in Australia. These people were often women. Some men who supported the enfranchisement women did campaign but this was not accepted in society and they were often called “poor wretched creatures” and were thought to be illogical and absurd. Rebecca Cadden’s essay, “The Three Waves of Feminism”, also tells us that in letters to the editor and editorials from the time, men who supported suffrage “ought to be ashamed of themselves.” (Cadden, R, 2001, Online.) There were various modes of campaigning undertaken by the suffragettes and suffragette groups. According to Women’s Web, a website which published a book online about Feminism, modes of campaigning undertaken included:  giving lectures, attending and organising meetings and conferences and the publishing of journals, magazines, editorials and letters to the editor. (Women’s Web, Unknown, Online).The campaigning undertaken was rigorous and would not stop until women were enfranchised. The campaigning put pressure on members of the public and politicians, which helped in gaining the majority of Members of Parliament required for the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 to be passed. The Minister for Home Affairs and member for Hume was known for his pro-suffrage and racist beliefs and was one of the main supporters in extending the franchise, or right to vote, to Australian women. Sir William Lyne said in a speech to Parliament, during the second reading of the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 that he himself had changed his views over time regarding the enfranchisement of women. “I should frankly like to avow that I have not always favoured the extension of the franchise to women. Some years ago, when I was very young in politics and probably my thoughts less matured, I was hostile to the proposal. Gradually, however, as the result of my reading, and in consequence of the advance of thought which has taken place upon this question, not only in Australia, but throughout the world, I was induced to take an opposite view of the matter.” (Sir Lyne, W. 1902. Cited in Australian Politics, Unknown, Online). The Commonwealth Franchise Bill 1902 was given the Royal Assent on 12th June, 1902 (Government of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1902.Cited in Australian Government, Unknown, Online) and would not have been achieved without the actions and campaigning of individuals and suffrage groups in Australia.

The suffragettes and suffragette groups faced, and overcame a lot of opposition in their fight for the enfranchisement of women in Australia. The opposition came from various people. Opposition was mainly justified with religion or how feminism would destroy society and ‘family’. In newspaper The Argus, a newspaper known for its stance against the enfranchisement of women, in 1912 published an article titled “Feminism Criticised” which reported on a speech given to religious order, the Ancoat’s Brotherhood by Rev. Father Henry Day, about Feminism. The Argus wrote about how Rev. Father Henry Day discussed how feminism was evil and would lead to society being destroyed and the degraded…age of women. (The Argus, 1912. Cited in National Library Archives, 2011, Online). Other publications from the time also published anti-feminist views. A magazine, The Bulletin, was aimed at men and was known for its racist and anti-suffrage views. In 1894 they published a political cartoon titled “The Petticoat in Politics-Suggested by Recent Maoriland Events.” This cartoon mocks women and play on the stereotype of women being weak and scared of bugs, insects and rodents. The cartoon depicts a woman, judged to be head of the meeting by her title, ‘Her Worship’, who is holding a meeting and one of the men moves to adjourn the meeting. The woman says she will not adjourn the meeting and one of the men responds he ‘smells a mouse.’ The next panel shows the woman, who has jumped on top of a chair, adjourning the meeting after hearing of a mouse. (Anon, 1894.Cited in Australian Broadcasting Company, 1998, Online). Publications like this were published in newspapers and magazines that were distributed everywhere. It is important to remember that even though the suffragettes faced so much opposition, they overcame it and gained the majority required for the Franchise Act to be passed. The Anti-Suffrage petition failed and in 1902 The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 was passed in Parliament and women were granted the right to vote federally.

The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 changed the lives of Australian women for the better. The Act was passed in 1902 and under the act, “All persons not under twenty-one years of age whether male or female, married or unmarried-(a) who have lived in Australia for six months or more; (b) who are natural born or naturalized subjects of the King and (c) whose names are on the Electoral Roll for any Electoral Division shall be entitled to vote at the election of the Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. (Government of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1902.Cited in Australian Government, Unknown, Online). Before the Franchise Act was passed the only people prohibited from voting were those in jail, those deemed to be of unsound mind and women. (Cadden, R. 2001, Online). The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, other than giving women the right to vote, made women ‘full’ citizens, as a ‘true’ citizen has the right to vote in elections. The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 also gave women a sense of being in the community and gave them greater rights, which allowed them to have a say in the community, help in deciding who represents them in Parliament and gave women the right to stand for election. Through the passing of the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, women’s lives changed for the better as they were granted the right to vote in federal elections stand for election and were now ‘full’ citizens of Australia.

The first wave of feminism, although a progressive movement historically, did not stamp out all gender inequalities that existed at the time. Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse legislation was not made during this time and women still did not have the right to their own body. Women also suffered massive differences between their pay and the pay men received. It is important to remember though that these issues were covered more in the second wave of feminism and the second wave of feminism would not have happened if the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 had not passed. Although the first wave of feminism was a progressive movement historically, it still did not sort out all gender inequalities that existed at the time.

The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 was achieved through the actions and campaigning of individuals and groups in Australia, who put significant pressure on the public and politicians, resulting in the margin needed for the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 to be passed in Parliament being achieved. These individuals and suffragette groups also overcame opposition, which claimed that feminism would destroy society and ‘family’. They often justified their opposition with their religious beliefs. The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 changed the lives of Australian women for the better by granting them the right to vote, the right to stand for Parliament, giving them a sense of being in the community and making them ‘full’ citizens of Australia. Even though the first wave of feminism did not stamp out all gender inequalities, these inequalities such as the right to your own body and equal pay would be covered in the second wave of feminism, which would not have happened if the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 had passed. During the late 1800s, interest developed among the Australian people about feminism and women’s suffrage, as a result of people debating and discussing these topics, and publications starting to circulate between the colonies and Great Britain. Through the actions and heavy campaigning of various individuals and groups in Australia during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 was passed and women were given the right to vote federally, which changed their lives for the better by making them ‘full’ citizens of Australia. Although the first wave of feminism was a progressive movement historically, it still did not stamp out all gender inequalities that existed at the time.

Bibliography

Primary:

Anon (1890). The Strike Question. The Dawn. Volume 2 (Issue 7). Cited in Anon. Selected Dawn Articles-The Strike Question. Retrieved 5th August 2011, from http://digitisethedawn.org/selections/strike-question

Anon (1894, 3rd February). The Petticoat in Politics-Suggested By Recent Maoriland Events. The Bulletin. Page 11. Cited in Australian Broadcasting Company (1998). Australian Suffragettes. Retrieved 5th August, 2011 from http://www.abc.net.au/ola/citizen/women/women-home-vote.httm

Anon, (1912, November 29). Feminism Criticised. The Argus. Cited in National Library Archives (Unknown). Feminism Criticised. Retrieved 5th August, 2011 from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10494988

Government of the Commonwealth of Australia (1902). Commonwealth Franchise 1902. Cited in Australian Government. Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902. Retrieved 5th August, 2011 from http://foundingdocs.gov.au/resources/transcripts/cth5i_doc_1902.pdf

Richard O’Connor (1902, 9th April). Cited in Unknown (Unknown). Parliamentary Debates-Some interesting fragments. Retrieved 6th August 2011 from http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/pol/women/Parlquotes.htm

Sir Lyne, W. (1902) Commonwealth Franchise Bill Second Reading. Cited in Australian Politics (Unknown). Franchise Bill Debate 1902. Retrieved 5th August, 2011 from http://australianpolitics.com/elections/features/franchise-bill-debate-1902.htm

Unknown (1902, 25th April). Editorial. The Age, 4. Cited in Unknown (Unknown). Newspaper Quotes. Retrieved 6th August, 2011, from http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/pol/women/Newspaperquotes.htm

Unknown (1902, 13th June). Unknown, Sydney Morning Herald, p.7. Cited in Unknown (Unknown). Newspaper Quotes. Retrieved 6th August, 2011 from http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/pol/women/Newspaperquotes.htm

Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society (Unknown). Cited in Australian Broadcasting Company (1998). Australian Suffragettes. Retrieved 5th August, 2011 from http://www.abc.net.au/ola/citizen/women/women-home-vote.htm

William Knox (1902, 23rd April). Cited in Unknown (Unknown) Parliamentary debates-Some interesting fragments. Retrieved 6th August, 2011 from http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/pol/women/Parlquotes.htm

Secondary:

Australian Parliament House (Unknown). Australian Women: Eligibility to Vote, to Sit and First Women Elected to Australian Parliaments. Retrieved 2nd August, 2011 from http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/pol/women/AustWomenVote.pdf

Cadden, R. (2001). The three waves of feminism. Retrieved 5th August, 2011 from http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/women_and_politics/suffr7.htm

Carruthers, K. (2011). Inspiring Women: Louisa Lawson-Women’s suffrage activist and publisher. Retrieved 5th August, 2011 from http://katecarruthers.com/blog/2011/01/louisa-lawson-the-dawn-history/

Google Definitions: Feminism (2011) Definitions for Feminism. Retrieved 21st August, 2011 from http://www.google.com.au/search?rlz=1C1CHKB_enAU418AU418&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=define%3A+feminism

Online Dictionary of the Social Sciences (2011) ‘F’. Retrieved 30th August, 2011 from http://bitbucket.icaap.org/dict.pl/dict.pl?alpha=F

Women’s Web (Unknown). Anti-Suffragists 1900-1910. Retrieved 5th August, 2011 from http://home.vicnet.net.au/~women/4.%20Anti-Suffragists.1900-10.html

Women’s Web (Unknown). United and Representative Agitation. Retrieved 6th August, 2011 from http://home.vicnet.net.au/~women/3.United%20and%20Representative%20Agitation.html

Advertisements

One response to “First-Wave Feminism: The Enfranchisement of Women in Australia

  1. Pingback: Waves of Feminism | The Lefty Gazette·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s