Women and Politics in South Australia
Women continue their political activity after gaining the vote
After women gained the vote in 1894, some of the organisations that had been set up for that campaign finished their work. But many of the women who had been active in the campaign set up new organisations to continue working for the economic, social and political rights of women.
Their aims included:
Educating women about politics and encouraging them to take part in the political process.
Encouraging women to stand for Parliament and supporting women candidates.
Lobbying and advising the government and male parliamentarians on issues of importance to women. It was a long time before women were sitting in Parliament and even longer before they gained any ministerial or other senior positions in government or the public service. So women set up their own committees, did research, and provided Members of the government and the public service with information, ideas and opinions.
There was also general interest in politics which led to the formation of women's political organisations.
Some of the major organisations included:
The Women's League - 1895-1897
This organisation was set up after women gained the vote, when the Women's Suffrage League closed. Its founders were some of the key activists in the campaign for women's suffrage.
The League of Women Voters - 1909 - 1979
This organisation was founded in 1909 under the name of the Women's Non-Party Political Association, because of the lack of significant improvement in women's status since gaining the vote in 1894.
Many of the founders had been active in the campaign for women's right to vote. Others were prominent in public life and were pioneers in new areas of work for women at a time when there were no women in politics or in any public position of leadership or authority.
In its long history, it took up many issues. It set up committees and gave its input to the government and parliamentarians on a wide range of topics. It also worked for the removal of remaining legal limitations on women, such as the right to practise as lawyers.
The League also supported women candidates for elections and encouraged women to enter politics as a profession. The League was active up until 1979, when it disbanded, and the younger feminist activists of those times put their energies into new organisations - Women's Liberation and the Women's Electoral Lobby.
Link: The League of Women Voters on the State Library of South Australia web site
The Girls Social and Political Union - 1914 -1917
This was a discussion group of young women, to inform themselves about State, national and international issues to make the best use of their rights to vote.
They discussed a wide range of topics, for example the beginning of women's movements in Japan and the USA; possibility of a World Federation of Women being formed; talks on Social Evolution. The record of their meetings is kept in the State Library's archives.
Link: The Girls Social and Political Union on the State Library of South Australia web site
The Housewives Association
This was formed in the 1920s. Its aims were to support and protect the status and interests of the home, women and children. In support of these aims, the Association lobbied politicians, canvassed support door-to-door; appeared before government enquiries. The Association was non-party political, and included women who were active in both the ALP and the Liberal Union, and supported their efforts to stand for Parliament.
These organisations lobbied governments on a wide range of important issues, and succeeded in achieving some notable legislative reforms. They lobbied on:
Changes to the minimum age of marriage for girls. As late as 1927, this was 12 years.
Equal rights for women in the guardianship and custody of children.
Equal pay for women.
In more recent times, this work has been continued by:
WEL - The Women's Electoral Lobby - 1972 onwards.
WEL encourages women to be politically active and campaigns on a range of issues. It began by quizzing all political candidates and political parties about their policies and stands on issues of importance to women.
Women's groups within major political parties
Link: The Women's Electoral Lobby on the State Library of South Australia web site
Anne Levy - "History of Women in the South Australian ALP", in "Making History - A history of the Australian Labor Party (SA Branch) 1891-1991