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    South Australia - Women

    Women's Suffrage and Allied Matters

    Crinoline Days - A Chat With Mrs E.W. Nicholls

    A reporter met with Mrs Nicholls of the Women's Christian Temperance Union a month or so go and asked her to talk about women's suffrage and other things. 'Weren't you one of the founders of the Women's Non-Party Association?', I asked. 'Yes, I helped found it', she replied. 'I did it as an admirer of Miss Catherine Helen Spence. She was the moving spirit and she founded it on the lines of the International Suffrage Alliance.

    'I always understood', I said, 'that Miss Spence was not particularly keen on suffrage.' 'She was not to begin with,' said Mrs Nicholls. 'Her great aim was proportional representation (which is, of course, a very different thing from preferential voting. Proportional representation abolishes party, preferential voting intensifies it). But she liked women doing things. We got her to see that it was a good thing that women should have the suffrage, not just the exercise of the vote, but for the status that went with it. 'In the old days we were politically negligible. Individual women were powers behind the scenes, as they have been through history, but such influence is uncertain and incalculable. Nowadays any politician knows that if once he rouses the women of the country he has to face their vote. If we combined - women don't, but they could - we would be able to do almost anything.

    'The status of women has altered very much since my young days. When I was a little girl there was no Married Women's Property Act and cruel things were done in its absence. A woman who had slaved all her life to get a little property together might marry a worthless man who would take everything from her and leave her. With indomitable courage she would set to work and begin again, only to have him come back one day and take everything she had.

    'Was women's suffrage looked upon as a revolutionary idea in the early days?' 'It was not in South Australia,' said Mrs Nicholls, 'for the idea came very gradually as a proposal for votes for women with property. Dr Edward Stirling introduced a Bill on those lines. There was a debate in the course of which one or two members made such insulting speeches on women that they aroused great controversy.

    'The Hon. Ebenezer Ward was particularly scathing on the idea that women were fit to have votes. I had never taken much interest before, but I was so incensed by the insolence of his remarks that I wrote to my very first letter to the papers. The debate aroused such interest that women began to raise their own voices on the Bill and demand, not votes for women with property, but a democratic suffrage.

    'A suffrage league was formed and I became a member. We were men and women of conflicting views, political and religious, but we never allowed discussion on anything but suffrage. Presidents came and went, but the outstanding worker was the honorary secretary, a lady from Ireland called Miss Mary Lee.

    ''What kind of a woman was Miss Mary Lee?" 'She was an eccentric, impulsive Irish woman. Her personality came much before the public, for she was a voluminous correspondent to the press. People used to talk and wonder about her. She was on a tram car one day when two women, discussing the suffragist, said, "She's just some crabby old maid." Miss Lee waited until she was getting off the car and then said, "You really are mistaken. I'm the crabby old maid; Mary Lee is my mother."

    'Other women who helped were Mrs Rosa Birks (Mr Charles Birks' second wife) and Lady Colton. The Reverend J.C. Kirby and Dr S. Magarey were two of our keenest members. The WCTU formed a franchise department and I really think that had a lot to do with getting the vote, for we got the matter discussed in literary societies and, particularly, church literary societies, where, perhaps, our word had more weight than that of an outside body.

    'Towards the end it was a hard fight and the victory in South Australia gained the vote or women all over Australia for when federation came about our representatives would stand out rather than take the women's vote away. To meet this, all women in the Commonwealth were given full franchise rights and the States soon came into line.

    'Has the vote for women done all you hoped it would do?' 'It has done all that some of hoped,' said Mrs Nicholls, with her usual moderation and good sense. We didn't think it was going to bring the millennium. We thought we were taking a step forward. Laws for women and children were passed before the suffrage, but in the safeguarding of those laws, and in seeing that they were properly carried out, women have done a great deal. They are far better able to protect themselves.

    ''Why is it, do you think, that South Australia always led the way in legislation for women?' 'Very largely because of Miss Spence. She exercised a wonderful influence. Some people have an atmosphere about them; Miss Spence was one of them. She was always a power. It was she who influenced many of the younger woman, who are now carrying on the work of such organisations as the Women's Non-Party Association.

    'Miss Spence never lectured people, or seemed to want to dictate to them. Her attitude was always that they were anxious to be informed and that if they knew the right thing they would do it. Then, too, South Australia had a good start and had a number of intelligent, liberal-minded men. It was free from the convict system - everywhere there were convicts, there were officials, and they were worse. People talk of the convict taint, but it was the taint of the system. Many of the convicts were decent enough people, only they had been transported. The officials were used to exercising unlimited power and they developed cruel and brutal qualities.'

    Talking of the changing social conditions she had seen, Mrs Nicholls said, 'There hasn't been as much change as people think. Only the outward customs and appearances and mechanisms have changed. And yet, of course, the change is great. When I was born there were no railways here, while such things as the telephone was thought the vain imaginings of people with lively imaginations.'

    General Notes

    "Universal Suffrage" is in the Chronicle,
    18 February 1860, page 4a,
    14 April 1860, page 1b (supp.),
    "Franchise for Women" in the Register,
    2 July 1868, page 3g.

    "Crinoline Days" is in the Observer,
    30 January 1926, page 54a.

    "The Crusade Against Women" is in the Express,
    20 July 1868, page 3e.

    "Female Civil Servants" is in the Express,
    15 May 1885, page 2b.

    "Women and the Franchise" is in the Register,
    23 July 1885, page 4h.
    A letter from Robert Davenport on the subject of universal suffrage appears in the Register,
    26 August 1879, page 6g.

    Also see The Lantern,
    1 August 1885 and 29 October 1887, pages 14 and 1 (cartoons),
    6 and 17 August 1885, pages 4d and 5e,
    28 June 1886, pages 4f-7g,
    22, 28 and 29 July 1886, pages 4e, 7f and 6e,
    4 August 1886, page 3f,
    16 and 24 August 1886, pages 7e and 6f,
    14 and 27 October 1886, pages 4f and 3h,
    19 and 23 July 1886, pages 4d and 7c,
    5 August 1886, page 3e.

    "South Australian Women's Petition" is in the Express,
    28 September 1887, page 4e.

    "Pioneer in Women's Suffrage - Miss Alice Henry" is in the Advertiser,
    6 May 1925, page 14c.

    "A Plea for Women" is in the Register on
    30 January 1888, page 5b; also see
    9 and 23 February 1888, pages 7g and 6b,
    19, 26 and 27 March 1888, pages 6c, 7e and 7d,
    4, 6 and 10 April 1888, pages 6d, 6b and 6e,
    8 May 1888, page 6d.

    A female correspondent airs her views on suffrage in the Register, 24 April 1888, page 6a:

    On 17 July 1888 at page 7h of the Register a dissenting male quoted from Lord Lyttelton's poem, Advice to a Lady, in an effort to stem the tide of female uprising:

    Unmoved by this masculine plea the female torch-bearer re-entered the fray:

    Also see Express,
    21 and 28 July 1888, pages 4a and 2d-4f,
    8 August 1888, page 7e,
    28 July 1888, pages 5g-20b-21g,
    24, 27, 28 and 31 July 1888, pages 7h, 3e, 5c and 7e,
    1, 3 and 14 August 1888, pages 7c, 3d-7h and 7g,
    28 August 1888, page 7c,
    25 September 1888, page 7h.

    On 11 October 1888 at page 7g of the Register a feminist blasted a politician for his insular views:

    Also see Register,
    2, 10, 13, 24 and 26 November 1888, pages 7e, 7f, 7h, 7c and 7f,
    28 and 30 January 1889, pages 7b and 7f,
    11 and 12 February 1889, pages 7c and 7e,
    29 April 1889, page 4h,
    30 May 1889, page 7f,
    3 January 1890, page 7f,
    25 February 1890, page 7d,
    21 and 26 March 1890, pages 7e and 7d,
    5 April 1890, page 7h.

    "The Women's Suffrage League" is in the Chronicle,
    29 March 1890, page 5g.

    "A Letter to Women", by Mary Lee, is in the Observer,
    22 March 1890, page 8a,
    19 April 1890, page 8a,
    24 May 1890, page 8a.
    Her obituary is in theObserver,
    25 September 1909, page 38a

    Also see Register,
    24 September 1890, page 6a,
    2 and 11 October 1890, pages 4g and 7b,
    1, 27 and 31 December 1890, pages 3g, 7e and 6h,
    12 and 20 February 1891, pages 7g and 7g,
    9 and 11 March 1891, pages 3h and 7h,
    13 March 1891, page 3e,
    23 May 1891, page 4g,
    3, 5 and 6 June 1891, pages 5b, 7d and 7f:

    On 31 August 1891 at page 4e the Editor of the Register, under the heading of "Women and the Franchise", says, inter alia:

    Also see Register,
    31 August 1891, page 7b and
    22 September 1891, page 5h (the latter is a satirical piece set in the late 1930s when only one man was elected in the 1939 election),
    13 April 1892, page 7a,
    6 and 17 May 1892, pages 3g-4h and 4h-7d,
    9 and 23 June 1892, pages 3b and 6g,
    9, 13, 20 and 27 July 1892, pages 4g, 1a (supp.), 1a (supp.) and 1a (supp.),
    3 August 1892, page 1a (supp.).

    A satirical essay titled "Our Sisters in Parliament Assembled" is in the Observer,
    26 September 1891, page 41d.

    "Women's Suffrage and Marriage" is in the Chronicle,
    5 December 1891, page 5b.

    "Should Women Vote" is in the Observer,
    24 August 1892, page 26c,
    "Enrolling Women Voters" on 13 and 20 April 1895, pages 16d and 29a.

    Also see Register,
    27 August 1892 (supp.), page 1a,
    20 and 25 February 1893, pages 7g and 4f-1d (supp.),
    15 March 1893, page 6e,
    21 April 1893, page 3e,
    7, 13, 21 and 26 September 1893, pages 4e-6g, 5c, 5a and 6f,
    4 and 31 October 1893, pages 5a and 7e,
    6 November 1893, page 6d,
    2 January 1894, page 5f,
    14 February 1894, page 6b.)

    An editorial on Mrs Mary Lee is in the Advertiser,
    25 April 1893, page 4f and
    details of a "Testimonial" on
    15 February 1896, page 7b.

    Following a decision by members of the suffrage movement to lobby members of parliament a poem appeared in the Register on 21 November 1893, page 7b; it reads in part:

    Also see Register,
    24 March 1894, page 5b,
    3 April 1894, page 7g,
    29 May 1894, page 4e,
    10, 17, 24 and 25 July 1894, pages 4f, 7h, 7h and 4g-7a,
    21, 22 and 24 August 1894, pages 7h, 7f and 4g,
    4 and 22 September 1894, pages 6h and 5h,
    12, 13, 17, 18 and 22 December 1894, pages 4h, 7h, 3f, 4f-5f and 5b,
    3 and 29 January 1895, pages 5b and 3e,
    2 and 28 February 1895, pages 7c and 4e,
    20 March 1895, page 4f:

    "Women Voters" is in the Observer,
    23 March 1895, page 25a,
    "Women and Politics" is in the Weekly Herald,
    26 July 1895, page 3b,
    9 August 1895, page 4c.

    "Women as Citizens" is in the Chronicle,
    30 March 1895, page 6d; also see
    23 and 29 March 1895, pages 6f and 5b,
    2, 9, 10, 17 and 19 April 1895, pages 4e, 4h-6c, 7f, 5b and 5b,
    3, 7 and 11 May 1895, pages 5c, 4g and 7d,
    29 June 1895, page 7c,
    11 and 18 July 1895, pages 6h and 5b,
    11 September 1895, page 7c,
    21 January 1896, page 6c,
    15 February 1896, page 7f,
    25 July 1896, page 7e,
    18 August 1896, page 7h:

    An editorial on woman in modern society appears in the Advertiser,
    21 October 1892, page 4e.

    A lecture entitled "Women's Political Responsibility", given by Miss C.H. Spence, is reported in the Advertiser,
    5 June 1895, page 3h; also see
    16 May 1896, page 42e,
    Weekly Herald,
    16 September 1899, page 8a.

    An editorial on woman in modern society appears in the Advertiser,
    21 October 1892, page 4e.

    "The Rights of Women" is in the Register,
    22 August 1895, page 3g,
    "Legislation for Women" in the Advertiser on
    21 February 1896, pages 4f-7a.

    "Women, Morality and Politics" is the subject of comment in the Register, 16 March 1896, page 4e:

    "A Few Plain Words for Women Electors" is in the Register,
    24 March 1896, page 6b,
    "The Price of a Woman's Vote" on
    16 and 20 April 1896, pages 4f and 6d,
    1 and 6 May 1896, pages 6g and 7h,
    "A Political Address by a Lady" on
    16 April 1896, page 6f; also see
    5 May 1896, page 7g.

    "Women's Suffrage at Work" is in the Register,
    10 June 1896, page 4h; also see
    6 March 1897, page 6d,
    9 April 1897, page 3h,
    "Will Women Vote" on
    22 April 1902, page 4c,
    "Women's Suffrage - Washington Conference" on
    21 August 1902, page 7h.

    "Our Women Voters" is in the Weekly Herald,
    18 February 1899, page 6b,
    "Will Women Vote" in the Observer,
    26 April 1902, page 24e.
    22 April 1902, page 4c.

    On 2 September 1902, page 4c the Editor of the Register opines:

    "Women in Parliament" is in the Advertiser,
    29 August 1903, page 6f; also see
    22 September 1903, page 4c.

    Cartoons are in The Critic,
    2 May 1903, page 1,
    15 August 1903, page 19.

    "Women in Parliament" is in the Advertiser,
    29 August 1903, page 6f;
    also see 22 September 1903, page 4c.

    "Women and Politics" is in the Register,
    10 August 1906, page 6e, 25 October 1906, page 8d:

    "Organizing the Woman's Vote" is in the Advertiser,
    10 September 1908, page 12A (col.e),
    "Women in Public Life" on
    13 October 1908, page 7f.

    An obituary of Mary Lee is in the Observer,
    25 September 1909, page 38a.

    "Mother of Suffrage [Mrs Annie Lowe]" is in the Register,
    27 May 1909, page 7a.

    "Women and Votes" is in the Register,
    21 September 1909, page 4d,
    "Women Voters" on
    31 March 1910, page 6d,
    "The Women's Conference" on
    17 and 19 October 1910, pages 6c and 8f,
    "The Woman Elector" on
    3 February 1911, page 4d.

    "Women and the Referenda" is in the Register,
    20 February 1911, page 6b,
    "An Appeal to Women Voters" on
    20 April 1911, page 7d,
    "The Advance of Women" on
    18 August 1911, page 4c,
    "Idealism and Women" on
    19 July 1913, page 14e.

    Also see Register,
    24 July 1913, page 5f:

    Information on and photographs of "Women in Politics" are in the Chronicle,
    3 February 1912, pages 31-43.

    "Advanced Liberalism - New Lady Organizer's Views" is in the Observer,
    8 February 1913, page 50c.

    "Women in Politics" is in the Advertiser,
    23 October 1913, page 8c.

    "Women and Liberalism" is in the Register,
    13 and 15 May 1914, pages 8b and 12a,
    "Militant Women" on
    27 June 1914, page 11h.

    "The Political Disablement of Women" is in The Mail,
    11 April 1914, page 22e.

    "State Elections - A Woman's Part" is in the Register,
    5, 8, 11 and 15 March 1915, pages 6b, 4b, 4b and 6b,
    "Women in Parliament" on
    10 and 25 August 1916, pages 4d and 6e,
    17 and 24 November 1922, pages 12h and 17b,
    1 April 1924, page 6f.

    "Woman - Her Place in Politics" is in The Mail,
    2 February 1918, page 3d.

    The First meeting of the National Council of Women is reported in the Observer,
    17 September 1921, page 43a.

    "Women, Flappers and Politics" is in the Register,
    13 March 1923, page 6d,
    "Women and Politics" on
    28 November 1923, page 8e and Observer,
    20 December 1924, page 53d,
    "Women and the Election" in the Register,
    13 November 1925, page 8d.

    "Canvassing Joys - Mrs Goode's Experience" is in the Observer,
    22 March 1924, page 51d,
    5 April 1924, page 35c.

    "A Woman's Political Work - Miss Hanretty's Career" is in the Advertiser,
    22 July 1924, page 11c.
    "Women in the Labour Movement [Miss E.R. Henretty (Hanretty?)]" is in the Register,
    24 and 25 July 1928, pages 4d and 12 (photo.).
    "Labour Women - First Conference Opened" is in the Observer,
    28 July 1928, page 11d.

    "Women's Societies in Adelaide" is in the Observer,
    13 March 1926, page 54.

    "Women in Parliament" is in The News,
    7 April 1927, page 8e,
    "Women in Council" in the Advertiser,
    14 September 1927, page 8e,
    "Labor Ideals - Women in Conference" on
    24 July 1928, page 15g,
    "Women in Parliament" on
    20 and 25 November 1929, pages 24d and 22d.

    "Lively Labor Women - Scenes at Trades Hall" is in the Advertiser,
    4 December 1929, page 21d.

    "Sexes Should Share in Democracy" is in The News,
    31 August 1932, page 4g,
    1 September 1932, page 8d.

    "If I Were in Power - What Women Would Do" is in The Mail,
    27 May 1933, page 7b.

    "Women's Fight for Their Emancipation" is in the Advertiser,
    16 September 1933, page 8f.

    "How Women Would Improve Parliament" is in The News,
    19 September 1936, page 4c.

    "State May Have First Woman MP [Mrs J. Fitzgerald]" is in the Advertiser,
    1 January 1937, page 9h.

    Women - Choose again