Women and Politics in South Australia
Some of the arguments in the Women's suffrage debate
One of the strongest arguments for franchise reform was that the women of South Australia were well-educated and intelligent.
The reformers' arguments
The campaigners for women's suffrage had to convince enough (male) Parliamentarians to support the reform legislation. They also had to gain support from men and women throughout South Australia to generate the community support needed to persuade Members of Parliament.
The reformers argued:
For simple justice.
It was not right that half the people should be denied the vote.
It went against the basic democratic principle of "No taxation without representation" if women who paid taxes could not vote.
Many suffragists pointed out the ridiculous situation where even the most idle, uneducated and unprincipled men could vote when the most highly educated and responsible women could not.
If women had the vote it would be easier to get social reforms that benefited them and families.
Many of the campaign's supporters were also strong campaigners for other social reforms that particularly benefited women and families.
They believed that women needed to have a say in electing the legislators and forming the legislation if these reforms were ever to be passed.
"What women want is to assist in procuring a proper set of men for the Parliament. We want the sort of men that will pay more attention to the rights and needs of women and the rights and needs and defence of the home than the men hitherto found in our Legislature."
Letter from "Zenobia" to the Register, 1888. In Her Own Name, p135-6.
The arguments against women's suffrage
Women's "purity, delicacy and refinement" would be at risk from having the vote.
Elizabeth Nicholls replied:
"...surely if those qualities could stand the strain of ordinary life they could equally stand the strain of going to the polling booth..."
Mary Lee was accused of being "a turbulent anarchist"
"If Mrs Lee obtains the power she desires and is permitted unrestrained to stir the seething cauldron of class discord I may live to see her sit knitting, counting ... the bleeding heads of the thrifty and learned as they fall beneath the strokes of the guillotine."
Advertiser, 1893 In Her Own Name, p152.
From a petition from 34 women who opposed women's suffrage, the reasons why they did not want the vote:
"Because the duties and life of men and women are divinely ordered to be different both in the State and in the home.
Because the energies of women are engrossed by their present duties and interests from which men cannot relieve them.
Because political equality will deprive women of special privileges hitherto enjoyed by the sex.
Because suffrage logically involves the holding of public office, which is inconsistent with the duties of most women."
South Australian Parliamentary Papers, 1894, 38, In Her Own Name, p159-160.