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The Alliance Record October 3rd, 1891 page 246


Womanhood Suffrage in Parliament

Presentation of the Women’s Petition

The Premier's Speech

As hon. member of the Legislative Council passing through the Queen's hall on Tuesday afternoon, and seeing a crowd of ladies entering its portals, exclaimed – "What’s all this about?" The answer was that the Premier was about to introduce the Constitution Act Amendment Bill, which included a proviso for giving women the suffrage, and that the numerous attendance of ladies showed that many of the sex, at any rate, were interested in the matter. The ladies in question were mostly officers of the W.C.T.U., and a good number of members of the Alliance Executive were also present, who together subsequently filled the Speaker's and the Stranger's galleries.

After the preliminary business in the House Mr. Munro, who was warmly cheered, rose to present

THE WOMAN’S PETITION.

He stated that it was signed by 30,000 of the women of Victoria, who desired the franchise. Its text was as follows:- " To the Honorable the Speaker, and Members of the Legislative Assembly of the Colony of Victoria, in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned women of Victoria respectfully showeth: That your petitioners believe: That government of the people by the people, and for the people should mean all the people, and not one-half. That taxation and representation should go together without regard to the sex of the taxed. That all adult persons should have a voice in making the laws which they are required to obey. That, in short, women should vote on equal terms with men. Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray your honorable house to pass a measure for conferring the Parliamentary Franchise upon women, regarding this as a right which they most earnestly desire. And your petitioners will ever pray."

The Hon. T.F. Derham presented a similar petition on behalf of a public meeting held in his own constituency.

On the Orders of the Day being reached the Premier rose, amidst cheers, to move the second reading of the

CONSTITUTION ACT AMENDMENT BILL.

In the course of an able speech he dealt first with the proposals to abolish plural voting, and to pay the members of Parliament from the date of return of the writ. Coming to the question of

WOMANHOOD SUFFRAGE

Mr. Munro said:- The proposal seemed to him very important for various reasons, one of which was that as a professed liberal he believed that government should be of the people, by the people and for the people, (Hear, hear) Why should one-half of the people be excluded from the franchise? He had read all the arguments which he could find against the extension of the franchise to women, and he could not find one tangible objection. There could be no argument against woman suffrage which could not be used equally well against manhood suffrage. He would read an extract from a speech on the subject, delivered on 20th May, 1867, by Mr. John Stuart Mill.

Mr. Mill said – " I rise, Sir, to propose an extension of the suffrage which can excite no party or class feeling in this House, which can give no umbrage to the keenest asserter of the claim either of property or of numbers – an extension which has not the smallest tendency to disturb what we have heard so much about lately – the balance of political power, which cannot afflict the most timid alarmist with revolutionary terrors, or offend the most zealous democrat as an infringement of popular rights, or as a privilege granted to one class of society at the expense of another. There is nothing to distract our attention from the simple question whether there is any adequate justification for continuing to exclude an entire half of its community, not only from admission but from the capability of being ever admitted within the pale of the constitution, though they may fulfil all the conditions legally and constitutionally sufficient in every case but theirs. Sir, within the limits of our constitution this is a solitary case. There is no other example of an exclusion which is absolute. If the law defied a vote to all but the possessors of £ 5,000 a year the poorest man in the nation might, and now and then would, acquire the suffrage, but neither birth, nor fortune, nor merit, nor exertion, nor intellect, nor even that great dispenser of human affairs, accident can ever enable any woman to have her voice counted in those national affairs which touch her and hers as nearly as any other person in the nation".

That was a quiet undeniable statement. He (Mr. Munro) believed in government of the people by the people for the people. Who were the people? Mr. Hayter, in taking the census, did not exclude all the women, nor confine the census to the male population. People under 21 years were excluded from the suffrage on the grounds that they had not arrived at the years of discretion. So were prisoners in gaol excluded, and lunatics. Why women should be classed with lunatics and criminals and children under age he did not know. What position did women hold? They were found engaged in teaching youth; they were engaged in hospitals, risking their lives as nurses on the battlefields, taking charge of domestic affairs. Women voted like men in some congregations. They held real estate, and shares in public companies; they were actresses and artists; they were amongst our best authors; they worked hard for families that had lost their fathers. There was every evidence that the influence of women would tend to elevate and purify politics. They were part of the people by the people for the people which excluded them. He (Mr. Munro) had noticed in the Press the previous morning that a great deal had been said about the position of women in America. He had taken the liberty to get an opinion on that question by communicating with the Agent-General, and asking him to get the latest information about the position of women in the United States and other parts of the world. He would read statement by a leading American Senator, which ran as follows:-

"(Extracted from address of Hon. J.M. Carey, at Washington, 27th Feb. 1891) The United States is at present far stronger than it was in the beginning of its history, and a greater percentage of its inhabitants participate in the administration of its affairs. Suffrage has become more general. It has been conferred upon classes not contemplated in the early days of the Republic. With it other reforms have taken place, and at this time more interest is manifested in the question of citizenship and a pure ballot than ever before in the history of the country. Some men and women still continue to decry and belittle the question of womanhood suffrage, but it is a living question and must be considered. The man who reflects upon it knows in his own heart that woman has as much moral rights, yea, as much intellectual rights, to vote as himself. He knows that suffrage is a power – a great lever for raising up all classes of society, for the protection of the person as well as of property, for the maintenance of institutions, and for the upholding of good government. He knows that this weapon in her hands will be just as powerful for good as it is in his own. But the question is often asked ‘ Why does man hesitate to share with woman a privilege of so much vital consequence to her welfare and happiness?’ Is it because he dreads that it may change the condition of things? It is perhaps natural that those who enjoy special prerogatives should be conservative. They are likely to be satisfied with the present condition of things, and, finding those in the immediate surroundings comfortable and contented, they oppose any radical change in the order of society. They do not comprehend how necessary this right of suffrage may be, even under our free government, for the protection of thousands of women why by an accident or misfortune have been thrown upon their own resources, and have no one to lean upon for strength and support. Suffrage should be granted to women for two reasons. 1st – Because it will help women, and 2nd – Because it will promote the interest of the state. Whatever doubt I may have entertained in the past concerning either the first or second proposition., it has entirely disappeared. From the experiment made under my own eyes and daily observation, I can state in all candour that suffrage has been of real benefit to women. It gives to them a character and standing that they would not otherwise possess. It does not lower her to be consulted about public affairs, but it is calculated to make her more intelligent and thoughtful in matters that concern her whole household, especially bringing up her grown sons and daughters. It increases her interest in those things that concern the great body of the people. Men in office and out of office, particularly those who expect to serve the public, are compelled to be more considerate as to her wishes, and more desirous of doing those things which will secure her approval. The greater the number of persons living under a government that are interested in the administration of its affairs, its well being, and the perpetuity of its institutions, the stronger the Government, and the more difficult it will be to compass its overthrow".

On the same occasion a letter was sent to Senator Carey from Wyoming stating "that the provision most to be commended is that clause that makes no discrimination on account of sex, so far as political rights are concerned. The people of Wyoming, after a practical experience during their entire territorial life, hesitate not one moment on the subject. They were substantially of one mind. The manner in which woman has exercised her right of elective franchise has left few men indeed who would deprive her of the privilege if it were in their power to do so. … If a pure ballot and an honest election are obtainable by law, it is provided for in the constitution adopted by the people of Wyoming."

The only objection offered to womanhood suffrage by some persons was that it was untried. Everything that was new was untried – (hear, hear) – but as far as woman suffrage was concerned it was not untried. It had been tried in the United States and other places in various ways. It was the law at present in the Isle of Man, and had been so for a considerable time, and was giving complete satisfaction. In a modified form it had been the law in England for a number of years, for it was the rule in all municipal elections. The objection had been taken that the women did not want the franchise. It was a remarkable thing that this Bill had been on the table of the House for nearly three months, and it was well known that it was intended to proceed with it and make it law, and yet no woman in Victoria had raised a voice against it. If the women of Victoria did not want the franchise they would have petitioned the House against it. (Hear, hear.) The women of Victoria to the number of 30,000 had done him the honor of asking him to present their petition in favor of the Bill, and the petition was signed by women who would be entitled to the franchise if the Bill became law. So that 30,000 women had done in regard to this Bill what 30,000 men had not done in favor of the “ One man one vote.” During the short time he had been in office he received a deputation which was the largest he ever received, and it was in favor of woman suffrage. He held in his hand a report of the speeches made by women on that occasion, and if hon. members took the trouble to read them they would find that the speeches were unanswerable. It had been said that women would not vote if the franchise were granted to them. He had in his hand a document published by the hon. F.G. Adams, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, a gentleman who, from his official position, would not publish a document which was incorrect. In this document he stated that “ 281 cities held elections on the fourth and fifth of April, those of the third –class voting on the fourth, and those of the first and second classes on the fifth. Of 237 of these cities we had the vote cast by both men and women, viz – by men 66,435; by women, 25,880; total 92315.” The same gentleman said further on that he had been most thoroughly impressed with the conviction that the people of Kansas at the last Spring election had completely solved the problem of woman suffrage, and that it was no longer a question whether women wanted to vote, for they did want to vote, as was proved by the fact that they had voted on the first opportunity given them. We know ourselves that women here had voted at municipal elections. They also voted at elections for directors of private companies, and in the Presbyterian Church for the last 300 years they had voted at elections for elders and ministers. The hon. member for Williamstown said the other night that his reason for not voting for woman suffrage was that woman suffrage would degrade women. (Laughter.) If a woman voted for Brown as an elder or a minister of a church, or voted for Jones as a director of a private company, how would she be degraded by voting for Mr. Carter at Williamstown? What was there so degrading in Mr. Carter that it would degrade a woman to vote for him? Surely the member of Parliament must be a terribly degraded animal if the mere fact of leaving his name on the ballot-paper would degrade the woman. They were told also that the woman’s place was at home. Women went to churches, concerts, lectures and other entertainments, and they sometimes went shopping. (Laughter.) And surely the time necessary for a woman to go to the polling-booth and strike out two or three names on the ballot-paper would not take up much more time.

Mr. W. T. Carter. – Will she go to the election meetings?

Mr. Munro. – If only those that attended election meetings were to vote, the percentage of electors would be extremely small. (Hear, hear.) It was not at political meetings that people made up their minds. It was sitting at their own firesides reading the reports of what was said at the meetings, and consulting with their friends as to the merits of the candidates. He had always understood that the hon. member for Williamstown was a democrat. Well, one of the leading principals of a democrat’s creed was that taxation and representation should go together. According to the Government statist there were about 120,000 women in Victoria earning their own living, and who were of an age which would entitle them to vote under this bill. These women were taxed in the same way as men, and yet the absolute injustice was done in not allowing them to vote. (Cheer.) The whole thing was scandalous. If it was believed that women were differently constituted to men, the taxation now imposed on them should be remitted. Democrats would surely give the people fair play and allow votes to those who were taxed. It was the duty of those hon. members who were opposed to the franchise being extended to women to prove their case. (Cheers.) It was their duty to give sound, practical reasons why women should not have the franchise. The proposition he had to make on this subject was that women were taxed like men, women were as intelligent as men, they were as able – and in many more cases more qualified – to do their work than men; and therefore those who refused them the franchise should show why they ought not to get it. He would conclude with the following lines from an anonymous author :-

“They talk about a woman’s sphere
As though it had a limit ;
There’s not a place in earth or heaven,
There’s not a task to mankind given,
There’s not a blessing or a woe,
There’s not a whisper – yes! Or no!
There’s not a life or death or birth
That has a feather’s weight or worth
Without a woman in it.”

(Cheers.)

A discussion ensued which lasted until the house adjourned at a quarter to 11 o’clock. The following members took part.

AGAINST THE EXTENSION OF THE SUFFRAGE TO WOMEN

Mr. Gillies Mr. G. D. Carter
Mr. W. T. Carter Mr. Bennett
Captain Taylor

FOR THE EXTENSION

Mr. Patteron Mr. Anderson
Mr. Richardson Mr. Graves
Dr. Maloney

The following are the clauses in the Bill which deal with the question of Womanhood Suffrage.

REMOVAL OF DISQUALIFICATION OF WOMEN

10. Notwithstanding anything contained in any Act every woman shall, subject to the Constitution Act Amendment Act, be entitled to vote at the election of members of the Legislative Assembly.

11. In section One Hundred and Twenty-eight and all subsequent sections in part IV. of the Constitution Act Amendment Act 1890, the word “male” wherever it occur shall be repealed, and the word “person” wherever it occurs shall include women, and generally all words importing the masculine gender shall be deemed and taken to include the feminine gender, and in the Nineteenth Schedule to the said Act after the word “manhood” wherever it occurs, the words “or womanhood” shall be added.



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