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Women and Politics in South Australia

Impact of Women gaining the vote

 Election Day Crowd - Waymouth St, 1896
Picture from Election 1896: A society in transition.

 

Women's vote and the 1896 election

The first election after women gained the vote was the Legislative Council election of 1896. Women enrolled quickly and in large numbers.

Among the women who voted in the 1896 election were 81 of the 102 Aboriginal women of the Point McLeay Mission who had registered to vote. But after Federation, in 1901, they lost their voting rights, as did Aboriginal men. These rights were not regained until after the Australian citizenship referendum in 1967

Four women were proposed as candidates by trade unions. But two of the nominations were withdrawn because the unions concerned were afraid they would look ridiculous. The two other women withdrew, because they did not want to stand for a political party.

Women were involved in campaigning for both sides of politics.

 

Women in public lifetext

By the end of the 19th Century, women were taking a larger role in public life. The growth of women's education after 1875 and their involvement in the suffrage campaign had given many women experience of the political process, public speaking and an awareness of political issues. After the election, the general climate of support for women's involvement in politics led to a number of women being appointed to public positions. Their appointments were significant because, only a short while before, it had not been socially acceptable for women to be involved in public matters or prominent positions.

Among these women were:

Augusta Zadow Factory Inspector 1895
Agnes Milne Factory Inspector 1896
Mary Lee Official Visitor to the Lunatic Asylums 1896 to 1907
Catherine Helen Spence Member of the Destitute Board
Member of the Commission of Enquiry into the Adelaide Hospital
1897
1895
Elizabeth Nicholls Member of the Adelaide Hospital Board 1895
Rosetta Birks Member of the Adelaide Hospital Board 1896
Blanche McNamara Inspector of Schools* 1897

 

Women entering politicstext

Many South Australian women remained interested in politics. After the vote was won, a number of organisations were started to encourage women's interest in politics, to support women standing for Parliament, and to lobby Parliament for reforms that concerned women.

But there was a long gap between the time women gained the vote and the right to stand for Parliament, and the time when women actually got into Parliament and gained a direct influence in government.

It was

24 years before a woman stood for Parliament - as a non-party candidate.
25 years before a woman was elected to a local council.
33 years before a political party adopted a woman as an endorsed party candidate for Parliament.
64 years before any women were elected to State Parliament.
72 years before women were eligible for jury service.
74 years before a woman was a member of State cabinet.

 

Women gain the vote in Federal Electionstext

Seven years after the women of South Australia gained the vote, and five years after they had first voted in State elections, South Australia joined the other Australian colonies in the new Australian Federation

When the Australian Constitution was being drawn up, Australian women were granted the vote in Federal elections, mainly because South Australian women had the vote, and because of strong support from the men in the South Australian delegation to the Constitutional Convention. The South Australian delegation threatened to withdraw from the Federation negotiations if Australian women were not granted the vote.