The Alliance Record May 16th, 1891 page 112

Womanhood Suffrage

The deputation to the Premier

The deputation to the Hon. James Munro, Premier, on this question, arranged by the Victorian Alliance, with the cooperation of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and kindred bodies, was received on Wednesday the 6th inst., at noon. There was a large and very influential attendance. Amongst those present were the Hon. D. Ham, Hon. C. Sargeant, M.L.C., Mr. W.J.S. Gordon, M.L.A., Hon. A.J. Peacock, M.L.A., Mr. R. Richardson, M.L.A., and Mr. A. Harris, M.L.A. About 100 ladies were present, mostly from the W.C.T.U., but including also representatives of the Melbourne Women's Temperance Union, and lady members of the Alliance. The Grand Lodge Executive, I.O.G.T., was represented by a lady member, Mrs. Gibson, G.M. Mr. And Mrs. Thomas Ferguson represented the Melbourne Total Abstinence Society. Most of the members of the Alliance Executive were present, together with representatives of the suburban branches, and many other leading members of the Association. A number of leading ministers of various denominations were conspicuous in the deputation, which numbered in all at least 200 members. It may be added that apologies were received from a number of members of Parliament, who could not from various causes, join the deputation, but who are in sympathy with the object it had in view. Among those may be specially mentioned the Hon. A. Deakin, M.L.A.; the Hon. A.R. Outtrim, Minister of Mines; and Mr. G. W. Hall, M.L.A.

The Hon. D. Ham briefly introduced the deputation. He said that he felt the greatest pleasure in introducing a body of such intelligence, such capacity, and such – he was going to say something else but he did not want to flatter. (Laughter) They had come to ask for the right of a voice in the affairs of the colony, and that could only be obtained satisfactorily by giving them the franchise, (Hear, hear)

Mrs. Harrison Lee was the first of the chosen speakers. She said she had been chosen to represent the women of the colony, because she had had peculiar facilities of knowing whether the women of the colony had any desire to vote, and whether, if they had a vote, they would use it wisely and well. She was sure that they did have a desire to vote, and would use it to further the moral and social welfare of the people. Women had to obey the laws, and they should have a voice in making them. (Hear, hear) God made man and women equal, and gave them equal power to rule the earth. A reference to the first chapter of Genesis would prove that. The stronger had unlawfully defrauded the weaker half, and should now make restitution of God-given rights. Many of the laws of the land dealt with the sacred home life of the people, and the women, whose natural sphere was home, should have power restored them of protecting and defending home and children. It has been proved beyond dispute that women were intellectually on a level with men, therefore it was an act of grave injustice to class them with criminals, idiots and lunatics. They respectfully appealed to the chivalry of their brothers, to their love of justice, to their high sense of right, to give them back the rights bequeathed them by an all-wise and far-seeing God. Whenever women had been allowed to take her place in public life, her influence had tended to refine, enable and uplift. Where she had been crushed and disgraced the nation, as a whole, had deteriorated. If, as Tom Hood said "she who rocks the cradle rules the world", committing into her hands higher responsibilities and graver trusts could not unsex her or render her less fit for her holy calling of wife and mother. It had been urged that women did not want the vote. That might be true of some, but as in the case of manhood suffrage, granting the vote did not make it compulsory to use it, so the women who did not wish to vote need not do so. On behalf of the thousands of loving mothers, loyal wives and faithful daughters who did desire the votes, she asked it. When King John gave Magna Carter to the people of England, many were no doubt utterly indifferent about it, but the placing of new responsibilities in their hands quickly developed new capabilities. So it should be in women. They asked for womanhood suffrage pure and simple, considering that women, being a taxpayer, and subject to national laws, should be allowed to vote on just the same terms as a man, and that the same conditions should apply to both. (Hear, hear) The societies represented had a membership of over 2,000 Christian women, and they had vast influence over Christian women. On their behalf she earnestly appealed for the franchise. (Applause)

Mrs. Greenwood was the next speaker. She defined the giving of the vote as the expression of an opinion. Had a woman any opinion to express? Ask her. (Laughter) Woman was qualified to vote by the possession of a moral and intellectual nature. Her capability intellectually was proved by her success in the fields of medicine and science, and by the fact of her reigning with grace and wisdom as Queen of our realm. Woman should have a vote because she possesses that moral force of which the world was greatly in need. Woman should have the vote because she had love, and if love were the greatest power in the home, then it must be the greatest power in the nation, as merely the aggregate of homes. More women than men kept the laws, therefore women should have a voice in making them. Hitherto she had never helped to draw the national chariot with her might; the few governed, not the majority, because woman had not been asked to give her opinion. Woman should have a vote for the sake of man, who never fought the battle of life so nobly as by her side. The savages who lived in the land before the white folk used to sit in a ring at meal times, regale themselves on the meat, and then throw the bones over their shoulder to the wife. How horridly selfish this was, but it was exactly what the gentlemen of the present day were doing in the voting business. (Loud laughter) Woman knew so well how to make her home a dainty habitation that she might be safely trusted with the welfare of the larger home of the nation. Woman had a right to vote in the interest of the children, and woman’s vote would be strong for moralists, because there were more good women than good men (Hear, hear) She felt more strongly on moral questions, and would naturally make that pre-eminent in deciding who should be the lawmakers. God expected every man and every woman to do his or her duty in the home and in the state. (Applause)

The Rev. D. O'Donnell spoke next, specially on behalf of the Alliance Executive. In the course of a powerful address he said he would like the Premier to understand that, although the deputation was chiefly composed of active workers in the Temperance cause, they did not ask for Womanhood Suffrage merely in the interests of Temperance reform. They pleaded for it as a woman’s natural right. The old-time notion, that woman is necessarily man’s inferior, is simply a relic of barbarism, and is being rapidly swept away by the flowing tide of knowledge and enlightenment which has fairly set it upon us. In proof of this, witness the entrance of women into the learned professions which were long regarded as the rightful monopoly of man. In these professions she has not only held her own, she has won renown in even-handed contests with men. It is now an accepted principle that sex is no bar to distinction. The strength of a nation does not lie wholly in the wisdom of its statesmen, nor in the soundness of its laws, but rather in the purity of its homes and the virtues of its people. It is from this point of view we discern how important a part woman plays in the making of a Nation. 'Tis she who guards the purity of the home and fosters our domestic virtues. 'Tis she who moulds the character of the men who are to be. But there are now thousands of men who aim at the destruction of our homes and the corruption of our youth. We demand a law that shall be a defence of our firesides, and a protection to every mother’s child; a law that shall put in every woman’s hand a weapon with which she shall beat back the wolves and vultures who would prey upon that which to her is dearest and best. To some of us it is nothing short of a crime that every vulgar larrikin can exercise the franchise so as to make or mar the nation, while the thousands of our women – the most virtuous, intelligent and peaceful section of the community – are deprived of this right simply on the ground of their sex. He would like to mention and answer some of the common objections to extending the franchise to women.
It is said that woman’s proper sphere is the home, in the capacity of wife and mother. Quite true. We do not propose to take her out of this sphere, but rather to strengthen her in it. It should not, however, be forgotten that God has not called every woman to be either wife or mother. Should these women, many of whom are conspicuous for their great natural talents, be denied their natural rights, simply because of their sex?
2. But, it is said, to give the suffrage to women would involve the enfranchisement of fallen and depraved women. If this be an argument against womanhood suffrage, should it not have equal weight against our enfranchisement of depraved and fallen men? Some of us are getting rather tired of this cant about fallen women, and think it time we heard a little more about fallen men – both in and out of Parliament.
3. It is said women would not exercise the right to vote if it was given to them. Of course that remains to be seen so far as Victoria is concerned; but experience in those places where women enjoy the privilege – notably in the State of Wyoming and Isle of Man – proves the opposite to be the case; they exercise their rights freely.
4. It may be said that there is no widespread demand for this change. If this was true – which we deny – it can scarcely be a fair argument, seeing that some of the greatest reforms of modern times have anticipated the demands of the people.
Knowing, sir, your views on this question, and believing that you and your Government are desirous of securing what is just and right to the whole of the people of this colony, we confidently leave this petition in your hands, believing that in due time a law extending the franchise to women will be found on the statute book of the colony. (Loud applause)

Miss Jessie A. Ackermann was present, by invitation and was called upon to speak. She said that she was not present to plead so much as to give her evidence of what woman’s suffrage had accomplished in other lands. In Massachusetts, where the public schools were threatened with a foul wrong which she could not mention, the woman had rallied to the defence and had carried the day. In Kansas the gaols were mostly to let, through the influence of women, Some women in America, finding that the basis of the constitution of the United States was that government should be "of the people, for the people, and by the people", asserted their claims to the suffrage, and the committee appointed to consider the claims gravely reported that women did not come under the definition of people. (Laughter) The constitution of one of the Australian colonies (not Victoria) gave the franchise to every person above the age of 21, but a side note explained that “persons” did not include women. They were not “persons” and they were not “people.” They ranked with the idiots, the criminals and the lunatics. She asked the men of Australia how they liked their mothers, wives and sisters. (Laughter and applause)

The Hon. James Munro, in replying, said that personally he had always sympathised with the request of the deputation, as he never could conceive how it was possible a nation that allowed a woman to occupy the first position could prevent her taking any part in the government. He had gone into the matter and had already employed a draftsman to prepare a bill for the purpose of giving effect to his views. (Hear, hear) He, however, confessed that some difficulties had arisen in connection with the matter, and he would like some advice. There would be no difficulty in at once passing a bill giving women who were on the municipal ratepayers’ roll the right to vote in Parliamentary elections, but the difficulty was in extending the principle beyond that. There would be so much machinery required to carry it further than that, so many prejudices to remove. Women were in the habit of changing their names, consequently there would be a difficulty in arranging matters. He would like to know whether they would be satisfied with the right to vote being given to women ratepayers.

Mr. J.W. Hunt (Most emphatically) No

The Rev. D. O'Donnell – It would only be a property qualification.

Mr. J.W. Hunt – It would be too infinitesimal to have any effect.

Mr. Munro was putting this as a practical matter. He was quite certain they could get this done without any difficulty, but he did not care to go into the subject simply as a matter of sentiment, without any hope of succeeding. If that were to become law a number of married women could qualify themselves who were not qualified now. Since the passing of the Married Women's Property Act they had control over their own estate, and could sue and be sued in their own name. While he was personally prepared to do all he could for them, he suggested that as a matter of precedence they should be satisfied with some smaller measure.

A speaker said that Mrs. Lee suggested that when a lady has changed her name since securing her right, she could produce her marriage certificate.

Mr. Hunt – Get the American acts, and see how the difficulties are got over in them.

Mr. R. Richardson, M.L.A, pointed out that the difficulty of changes of name was easily got over in the public service.

Mr. Munro replied that in the vast majority of cases a woman had to resign as soon as she got married.

Mr. J.W. Kirton, M.L.A. was anxious the franchise should be extended to every woman over 21 years of age.

Mr. Munro – There is another difficulty. Ladies don’t like to tell you when they are 21 years of age. (Laughter) I will do the best I can; that is all I can tell you.

The deputation thanked the Premier, and withdrew.