Debate in Parliament, Sept 1891

A number of petitions on woman suffrage were presented in the Legislative Assembly during September 1891

Thursday 10th September:
Mr. A. Young presented a petition from certain women of Victoria praying that the Parliamentary franchise may be conferred upon women

Tuesday 29th September
The following petitions, praying that the House may be pleased to pass a measure for conferring the Parliamentary franchise upon women, were presented: -
By Mr. Derham –
From C.H. Martin, styling himself chairman of certain electors and other residents of Port Melbourne, in public meeting assembled
By Mr. Munro –
From certain women of Victoria

Wednesday 30th September
The following petition, praying that the House may be pleased to pass a measure for conferring the Parliamentary franchise upon women, was presented: -
By Mr. Peacock –
From certain women of Victoria [500 women signed this petition]

Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly no. 32, 39, 40

Sept 29 1891 pp1677-1679 – [check page numbers again] A section of the debate on woman suffrage

Constitution Act Amendment Bill – 1891
[Check first section with Sally for actual words]/p>

Mr. Munro – I desire now to deal with the third Amendment Bill I hope honorable members will support. I stress importance to it for various reasons, one of which is that, as a professed liberal, I believe that government should be of the people, and for the people. Why should one half of the people be excluded from the franchise? I have read all the arguments which I have been able to find against the extension of the franchise to women, and I have not been able to discover one tangible objection – not one. There can be no argument against woman suffrage which cannot be used equally well against manhood suffrage.

Dr Maloney – And woman suffrage is now law in England

Mr. Munro – Certainly, woman suffrage is recognised in England. [He then read a passage delivered in the House of Commons in 1867 by John Stuart Mill].


Mr Munro – I believe in government of the people, by the people, for the people. Who are the people? I venture to say that in taking the census recently, Mr. Hayter did not exclude the women nor confine the census to the male population.

Mr. Sterry – He did not exclude the children

Mr. L.L. Smith – He included cows and fowls.

Mr. Munro – Mr. Hayter did not include them among the animals which the honorable member for Mornington could be called upon to prescribe for in the case of sickness. We exclude certain persons from the franchise for sound and good reasons. We exclude persons under 21 years of age because they are not of an age to control property, and have not arrived at years of discretion. We also exclude prisoners in gaol and lunatics in asylums. Why women should be classed with lunatics, criminals and minors, I cannot understand. What position do women hold among us? They are largely engaged in teaching our youth. They are the best nurses in our hospitals. They take their lives in their hands as nurses on the battle-field, and they have entire charge of domestic affairs. In some congregations women vote like men. They hold real estate and shares in public companies. In music and on the dramatic stage, they take the highest positions. They are among the best producers of literary work, and they work hard to rear families which have lost their fathers. They are with us in joy and sorrow. They are our comfort in every event of our lives. They reign as queens to the entire satisfaction of the country.

Mr. Bowman – Why not put them on the jury list?

Mr. Munro – I will come to that by-and-by. To name all the important functions performed by women would be to exhaust every phase of human action. There is evidence that the influence of women will tend to elevate and purify politics. They are part of the people, and there can be no government of the people, by the people, for the people which excluded them.

Mr. W.T. Carter – They are not excluded

Mr. Burrowes – Do they not govern us now?

Mr. Munro – As I noticed that a great deal was said in the press on Monday morning in regard to the position of women in America, I have been careful to collect all the information which I could obtain bearing on the subject in that quarter. In fact I communicated with the Agent-General, and asked him to send out the latest information in regard to the position of women in the United States and other parts of the world.

[Mr. Munro – then read part of an address by the Hon. J. Carey, Washington, Wyoming, 27th February 1891]

… The debate continued

Mr. Munro – Now a number of persons tell us that their only objection to womanhood suffrage is that it is untried, but the same may be said of every reform that is proposed. As far as womanhood suffrage is concerned, I am prepared to say that it is not untried – that it has been tried, as I have already shown, in the United States and elsewhere. Womanhood suffrage is law in the Isle of Man; it has been so for a considerable time past, and it is giving complete satisfaction. In a modified form it has been the law of England for a great number of years, women voting in municipal elections, and in various other elections. In Wyoming, the 44th state of the union in the United States, womanhood suffrage has been law for 25 years, and at the present moment a woman can legally become President of the United States.

…. The debate continued

September 30 [p1678] – Second reading – second night

Mr. Trenwith – The fundamental principle which cannot be got over is that every man being equally subservient to the law should have an equal right of framing the law; and there is not an argument in favour of manhood suffrage which does not apply to woman suffrage when the women ask for the right to vote. Up to the present time, however, women have not asked for that right.

An Honorable Member – thirty thousand women have petitioned for it

Mr. Trenwith – I say that 30,000 women have not petitioned for it, because many of them signed the petition presented to the Premier under pressure, and I know that some of the women who canvassed for signatures also acted under pressure, being really opposed to female suffrage. In the abstract I am in favour of woman suffrage, but there are some reasons why the question should not be considered at the present time. Women up to the present time have not asked for it, nor, have they qualified themselves to use it, but the agitation which has been going on in connection with the subject is doing good educational work; it will qualify them for the suffrage, and the time must come when they will use it. As I said, I am in the abstract in favour of female suffrage, because I believe that every adult human being should have a voice in the making of the laws under which we live. A strong reason why woman suffrage should not be provided for in this Bill is that we are now within measurable distance of accomplishing a reform for which the country has been anxious for years past. Now that, after much vexatious delay and disappointment we are near the fulfillment of the one-man, one-vote principle, it is to be regretted that the measure should be endangered by the importing into it of any other consideration. If I were as certain that female suffrage would be granted as I am certain that it is dangerous to the principle I am contending for to include it in this Bill, I would still say that it should not be tacked to this Bill for the abolition of plural voting. I urge upon the supporters of female suffrage to vote for its omission from this Bill.

An Honorable Member – Let the female suffrage be passed first

Mr. Trenwith – No; there are many urgent reasons why a Female Suffrage Bill should not be passed first. It must be borne in mind that the world is in a transition stage. The people are exercised and agitated with reference to experiments in connexion (sic) with legislation that have been growing and extending their influence for many years past.

The time for taking business other than Government business having arrived, the debate was adjourned until the following day.

October 1 [p1689 & 1690] – second reading – third night

Mr. Best – With regard to the question of woman suffrage, which it is proposed to grant in this Bill, I may say that I am, at all events present, opposed to that proposition. I admit that in the abstract there is a good deal to be said in its favour, but I agree with those who say that the proper time has not yet come to grant the ladies the privilege proposed. We have been accustomed to regard woman in her own sphere, and to admire and respect her in that particular sphere. We have been led to believe that the spheres of the sexes are completely different. By the reason of her training and by the reason of the duties which nature intended her to undertake, I do not think that woman is fitted to bear the rough work of life that is undertaken by the men. Moreover, I have not had the opportunity of learning – and I mix with the general run of the community as much as most people – that there is any strong or ardent desire on their part for the parliamentary franchise.

Mr. W.T. Carter – It is only a section.

Mr. Best – As the honorable member has suggested it is only a section that seem to be clamouring for the suffrage to be granted to women. Can it be seriously said that Parliaments as now constituted have failed to recognise the rights of women? I think that they have not. I believe that if we look at the Acts of parliament which have been passed, it will contradict such a suggestion. The Married Women’s Property Act [1884] was passed by men of their own volition, and who did not represent women as constituents. That measure has been improved from time to time until we have completely departed from the old principle, that a woman had no legal recognition at all, that she was supposed to be one with her husband. Now, as a matter of fact, a married woman is regarded by law as a femme sole, so she has nothing to complain of in that direction. In the Local Government Act, though the system of female suffrage did not obtain in parliamentary elections, yet so important was it regarded that property should be represented in the municipal councils, that the right of voting was given to woman; but, so far as my experience goes, she has no appreciation for the privilege at all. In the Factories Act, Parliament has taken every precaution to guard the interest of females and children. In the divorce law, woman has been equally and fairly treated, and, so far as our public departments are concerned, every encouragement is given to women to occupy positions for which they are reasonably suited. Therefore, what I claim is, that although women have not enjoyed the suffrage in the past, they have not been neglected, but, on the contrary, every man of fair and reasonable instincts has had the strongest desire to do even more for them than he would do for those of his own sex. If we are going to introduce women, possibly as an opposing element, the necessary consequence will be that this delicate attention which we are anxious to pay them, this admiration of their refinement, and this respect and deference we seek to show to them will be more or less abolished; she will have to be treated on hard business lines and dealt with on many questions as an opponent. Man has been looked upon in the past as the protector of woman, and I do not think that he is prepared even at his juncture to shirk this great and important responsibility. This proposal is also not supported by precedent. I am not aware that woman suffrage is in force in any English community. Only one or two states of America – and those were formerly territories, and have only recently been admitted as states – have given women the benefit of the suffrage. The only important precedent mentioned by the Premier was that of the state of Wyoming, and we are told on most excellent authority that the suffrage was granted to women there simply by the trickery of a clever and designing man. Consequently, I may say that there is no historical instance which would justify us in granting the suffrage to women.

[Mr. Best – then provided quotes from Mr. Bryce, “an historian of great reputation”]

The Premier has stated that this is a leading democratic principle; but in the great democracy of America they have only sought to introduce woman suffrage in one or two states, and the party leaders of America reject the proposal, because they are fearful as to what the results of it would be, and they say that, by the experience of these particular states, there is no benefit or advantage to be obtained from it.

Mr. Williams – Because they cannot get rid of the puritanical element.

Mr. Best – My friend may be right, and the great 66,000,000 of people in America may be wrong, but it so happens that neither in America, nor in any English community, have they seen fir to introduce this change. The statement that is made by Mr. Bryce, with the regard to the reluctance of women to vote, is confirmed by the experience of most municipal men.

Mr. Munro – No

Mr. Best – That may not be the experience of the honorable gentleman, but it is my experience. I have observed the greatest reluctance on the part of ladies to vote, and the electioneering dodge that has to be resorted to by candidates has been to induce other ladies to exercise all their influence with a view to induce them to come to the poll. I find that the ladies will not come out to vote except for some personal reason, through some personal relationship to, or admiration of a particular candidate, and we know that they are always more or less sentimental in these matters. I do not, however, hesitate to say this, that if I was perfectly satisfied that women were suffering by reason of their not being granted the suffrage, or if there was a demand for the suffrage by a large section of the female community, I would not be one to stand in the way of the change; but I do not think that the time is yet opportune for it. The Premier has placed honorable members like myself in a difficult position. I am pledged at the hustings to oppose woman suffrage, at least for the present, but I am also pledged to support the abolition of plural voting. However, I intend to vote for the second reading of the Bill, because it will secure us one important reform, that is the abolition of plural voting.


Mr. Zox – … With reference to woman suffrage, it is proposed to place something like 120,000 women upon the electoral rolls of the colony. Although I have been twitted with being a bachelor, I can assure the Premier that no one has a greater regard for women than I have. I should not like to see their influence weakened in any way, but that is no reason why I should support a measure brought in at the fag end of the session, making a new departure of this kind, when really the country has never asked for it. How many members have been asked by their constituents if they will support a measure of this description?

Several Honorable Members – We were

Mr. Zox – It is perfectly true that the Premier presented a petition yesterday, signed by 30,000 women, in favour of his scheme. I do not want in any way to depreciate the value of that petition, but every honorable member knows from his own experience how easy it is to get up a petition. A friend of mine said to me only the other day, “Do you know, Zox, that if a man stood in Collins-street with a petition to have you punished for wearing a white waistcoat all the year round it would be most extensively signed”, and I believe myself that it would. …

[p1720 – 1 October]

Mr. Munro said – With respect to clauses 10 and 11, relating to woman suffrage, he would at once give in to the feeling of honorable members that this matter had not had full opportunity of being considered by the country. At the same time he was bound in honour, in accordance with the request made to him by a very large deputation and by the petition he presented to the House, to bring the matter before the Assembly, and he, for one, felt perfectly satisfied with the matter in which it had been treated. He felt that the matter had received fair and full consideration, and with the leave of the committee he would withdraw those clauses for the present time.