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Women and Politics in South Australia

Key Women in the campaign for women's right to vote 

Mary Lee

Mary Lee was one of the prime movers behind the Women's Suffrage League, and one of its most active workers. She was the League's secretary. A forceful and outspoken woman, she was one of the most active campaigners, writing letters to newspapers and addressing public meetings. She was in her 70s during the suffrage campaign, but still went on after the vote was won to hold a number of unpaid government social welfare positions. See:

Mary Colton

Mary ColtonPresident of the Women's Suffrage League after 1892. She was a strongly religious woman married to a wealthy, charitable parliamentarian, John Colton, who had been Mayor of Adelaide and Premier of South Australia during the 1860s and 70s. Mary Colton was active in church work, charity and social reform - particularly the support and protection of young women. She helped to found the Adelaide Children's Hospital, and what became the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). She became involved in the Social Purity League and worked there with Mary Lee.

Her prominence and popularity in Adelaide was a factor in making women's suffrage more widely acceptable

Rosetta Birks

Rosetta Birks was treasurer of the Women's Suffrage League. Another active Christian, she came to the suffrage movement through her earlier membership of the Social Purity Society. Married to a prosperous business man, she supported the Suffrage League financially and made it popular with women in more prosperous social circles.

Elizabeth Nicholls

Elizabeth NichollsA strongly religious woman and a prominent member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union which actively supported women's suffrage. As Colonial (ie Australian) President of the WCTU, she organised the WCTU's campaign for women's suffrage. She was known as an energetic and forceful organiser, and her leadership of the WCTU was credited with getting more than 8000 signatures to the great suffrage petition of 1894. She was also on the Council of the Women's Suffrage League.

After women gained the vote, most of these women carried on their political and public work with a number of public appointments and involvement in women's political organisations.

Catherine Helen Spence

Catherine Helen Spence

A life long campaigner for the rights of women, for electoral reform and for the well-being of children, Catherine Helen Spence joined the Women's Suffrage League in 1891 and was an active campaigner, lobbying politicians, writing letters and addressing public meetings. After the vote was won she turned down an offer to stand as a candidate for the 1896 South Australian election, but became the first female political candidate in Australia, when she stood for election to the South Australia delegation to the Constitutional Convention for Federation in 1897.