When I was 11 years old I went through a period of being fascinated with the history of the women’s suffrage movement. I admit, I was a bit of a nerdy child. For my grade six oral presentation I decided to speak on a women’s right to vote. Instead of speaking from first person, I decided to take on the persona of an activist in the late 19th Century, speaking to a rally for women’s suffrage. My mum suggested that I take on the character of Vida Goldstein, the first woman in Australia to run for parliament. I’m not sure if I got through to my fellow classmates, but my teacher definitely loved it and I think it was probably the first time I really identified as a feminist. After moving house recently, I found the speech, still on cue cards, and I thought it might be nice to share. I have copied it exactly as I wrote it back then, even with all the corny 11 year old phrasing I used. I had the words in bold to remind myself to give emphasis when speaking, I thought keeping them was interesting to see which words my 11 year old self wanted to place emphasis on.
Good Morning Ladies, and the small number of brave men that have arrived. My name is Vida Goldstein and I am proud to be a suffragist.
What is a suffragist? A suffragist is a person who campaigns for National Suffrage, the right to vote for all.
The year is 1895 and we are here today protesting because Women in Victoria do not have the right to vote! Our sisters in New Zealand were the first women in the entire world to achieve the vote in 1893. A year later, our fellow female citizens in South Australia also were given the right to vote for local council. But women here in Victoria and women in the rest of Australia still do not have the right to vote for the people who represent them! What makes us any different?
I quote from my sister in suffrage Elizabeth Bennick:
“Are women citizens?
Yes! When they are required to pay taxes
No! When they ask to vote
Does the law concern women?
Yes! When they are required to obey it
No! When they ask for a voice in the representation of the country”
Queens have ruled whole empires, yet other women cannot vote for their local government, let alone state or federal parliament.
Have you noticed that terms people use in everyday language are always favoring men? Why isn’t it herstory instead of history? Why is it always for the good of mankind, instead of for the good of womankind? Just these little things are the reason we do not have the vote in Victoria.
6 years ago Louisa Lawson, a fellow suffragist said: “A woman’s opinions are useless to her, she may suffer unjustly, she may be wronged, but she has no power to weightily petitions against man’s laws, no representatives to urge her views, her only method to produce release, redress or change is to ceaselessly agitate.”
I have never heard a good reason why men should have the vote. When did they launch their campaign? When did they go on protest marches, sign petitions, and rationally argue for their basic rights? The governors raise arguments against female suffrage such as the violation of motherhood ideal, destruction of family life, dishonesty and that we are “staining the fine character of Victorian Women“.
Are not some of these arguments eligible for men also? How will the vote destruct family life, it will simply make it stronger! They say we are too weak to vote. Are we too weak to bring children into the world? Something I am yet to see a man do. Are we too weak to raise a family? Too weak to cook, clean and support the men of Victoria? 4 Years ago, in 1891, we signed a petition with over 30,000 signatures of men and women alike in Victoria. They labelled it “The Monster Petition” as it was so big, several people had to carry it into the chamber. And they still ignored us!
We are not only fighting for the vote, but for equal justice, equal privileges in marriage and divorce, rights to property and the custody of children in divorce. We argue on issues such as contraception and abortion, family allowances, equal employment opportunities, education and respect for women’s domestic labor. Yet all of the decisions are currently being made by men, when they concern us!
We really just want people to respect women’s rights as workers, as mothers and women as citizens. People ask us why we want the vote, why it is so special. The truth is because there are only men in parliament and only men can vote, politicians only worry about the things men worry about. Things like land, and beer and sheep!
We can’t go up to a politician and say “I think it is outrageous there is not enough proper education or healthcare in this town, because they won’t listen to us. We pose no threat, because we don’t vote. Men’s issues take priority because they could put the politican out of a job. We can’t pass laws concerning abusive husbands because men are the ones who pass the laws, and the ones who vote on them.
Now if we ever do get the right to vote, I want all you women out there to remember, every time you walk into that polling booth, don’t just tick any old box and please do not vote informally. Really think about who and what you are voting for. Use your vote wisely because we fought hard for it.
It would not be until 1908 that Victorian Women would gain the right to vote in Federal and Local elections. But it was not until the end of WWI in 1918 that women could finally vote for State parliament. In the time between 1903 and 1917, Vida Goldstein would stand for Parliament 5 times unsuccessfully. This made her the first Australian woman to stand for Parliament.
Edith Cowan was the first woman to win a seat for her local government in WA in 1921. But Australia would not gain National Suffrage for another 48 years until 1966 when Aboriginals were finally entitled to vote. And I want all of you out there to remember how lucky you are to vote in a safe democratic election when so many women around the world still don’t have this basic right that so many take for granted.