Alliance Record 5 September 1891 pages222, 223 & 226

Womanhood Suffrage

Paper presented at the Victorian Alliance Conference 1891

Mrs. William McLean read the opening paper, as follows:-

Last November, at the W.C.T.U. Conference, I had the honor of bringing this subject under the notice of my fellow White-ribboners. Your secretary has asked me to open a debate on the same subject here, and I will therefore venture to put a few thoughts briefly before you, and must crave your indulgence if what I have to say should not appear very new. I find that during my absence from the colony some excellent leaflets and tracts on this subject have been published both by our W.C.T.U. executive and your committee, which will further tend to awaken thought and educate public sentiment. The principle upon which we claim that the franchise should be granted to women is, that every intelligent adult should have the right of representation in the Parliament of the country in which he resides, and thereby a direct influence in making the laws by which he is governed. This is the idea which forms the basis of all our democratic institutions, and which has been adopted as the governing force here so far as one-half of the population is concerned. There are many countries where this idea of government is not yet developed, and I do not argue that the adoption of it by uncivilised or semi-civilised races would be beneficial, but I say that in these colonies where you have manhood suffrage, we women ought not to have to plead for it, but that our opponents should show valid reasons why it has not been granted to us. We do not ask for it except upon the same terms, and for the same reasons that it has been granted to men. It is about 30 years I believe, since this principle came into operation here, thereby acknowledging that the men of this country are fit to govern themselves, and you look upon it now as a natural right. What was one of its immediate results? Perhaps I may be permitted to speak, as having spent nearly all my life in this colony, and after first purifying the elections by the system of voting by ballot, there arose an agitation to extend educational advantages to every child in the country. Ignorance was not to be excused, no, not even tolerated. Men saw the danger of the ballot being in the hands of illiterate persons, and thus at last our present education Act became law, and you compel those who are to use the franchise to acquire at least the simplest elements of knowledge. I wish you to notice that free education followed upon the giving of the franchise to every man, so that now the women of this colony are in a better position to use the franchise wisely than men were. Now, having adopted this principle as regards men, why deny it to women? Is it because we are not capable of sufficient education? I do not find that in examinations either of teachers or scholars, a lower standard is required from women than from men, or that girls are placed on a different footing from boys – they learn in the same classes, and pass the same examinations, and though I have known many teachers, I have not heard complaints of any difficulty in teaching girls. I notice, however, that girls are required to sew and knit, with a view, I presume, to their being better qualified to serve the State in their homes, so that you recognise the fact that a woman has to perform special duties. But you do not give the boys any education in politics! I well remember a series of simple lessons on political economy in a lesson-book which was used in the school I attended at Fitzroy – such subjects as work and wages, rich and poor, &c., &c., were treated in a simple forcible style that I have never forgotten, and I have often thought it would be a great advantage to have such lessons introduced in the course of reading in our schools. It would be a great benefit to the senior scholars to have some instruction in the principles of social and political economy. It cannot be, then, that we are not capable of studying these matters, neither does the law require a special education before giving the ballot, though I venture to think the quality of our representatives would be improved if the electors generally were better informed on political and social matters. What is the reason, then, why women are denied the suffrage? Is it that we have not time to think of politics? It does not follow that because our homes are to the majority of us the places where our work lies and most of our time is spent (and we are glad that it is so), that we are not interested in the politics of our country. Men have their businesses, professional duties, &c., but that does not hinder their finding time to have opinions, on political matters, attend political meetings, and go to the polling booth. We are compelled to think seriously about such things when, in consequence of heavy duties prices are raised, or when the trade is suffering from the effects of a land boom, or when a strike occurs and our coal supply is cut off. We regard all matters which touch either the moral or material prosperity of our country as well worth our study, and we have our opinions about these things. We cannot see why our views should not find expression at the ballot-box equally with those of men. Will anyone say that we would be worse wives and mothers thereby ? Would women be less a help meet for man by being interested in all that concerns him? Surely not. But you say your political meetings are not fit places for women. Well, if you cannot admit us to your political meetings, we will have our own, and ask candidates to address us there. But is it not a disgrace if such is the fact? If political meetings are demoralising, something must be radically wrong, and if this principle works evil to our husbands, brothers and sons, let us abandon it at once, and give up democracy as a failure, for nothing can be good for a nation which lowers its moral character. We cannot understand, however, why such should be the case, but quite reverse. To be a good statesman – to guide the affairs of the country so as to promote its best interests – to take a part in all that concerns its welfare, and to use all our influence for the making and the administering of just and righteous laws, what nobler ambition would there be for every one who loves his country? What is it then that excludes us from representation? I find that you deny the suffrage to criminals who, by their actions, have rendered themselves dangerous to the State, and are, therefore, imprisoned in your gaols: but I find there a much less proportion of women to men. It cannot be then our worse moral character. Then you exclude those who have not the reasoning faculty. Are we lunatics or idiots? You also deny the right to those of immature years, excluding all under 21 years of age. I certainly think that the average young woman of 21 is quite as competent to vote wisely as her brother of that age. Are we to be always reckoned as minors? We think the reason must be that you have forgotten us, or that you did not understand our needs. Let this be the case no longer. Our claim is that members of Parliament shall represent the views not only of men of their constituency, but also of its women. Perhaps you say that we are indirectly represented by our influence over our husbands. Would this sort of representation satisfy those who use this argument? I think not. And what of the many thousands of women who have no husbands, and many others whose husbands are very unfit to represent them? Consider the thousands of women who support themselves by their own labor outside of their homes. And if you say that to the majority home is the sphere of our energies, I contend that the woman who guides her home rightly is not only earning her living, but serving the State to the very best advantage in the rearing and training of her children. Should she not be represented? Our womanhood limits us in regard to the ways in which we can serve our generation, and we do not resent this limitation. We do not want to rule or usurp any place to which man has a natural right, or for which he is better fitted. Women who are rated for property vote in municipal elections, but in Victoria we never see women adorning the local councils. Perhaps certain councils would be better behaved if they had some lady members. What would be the effect of such a measure? I maintain that to women herself – to her home – to men (not forgetting candidates for Parliament), and to the laws under which we live, the results of granting the franchise to women would be good. I do not want to repeat what I wrote in a former paper, and so will not trouble you with details on all these points, but I ask you to look at the way in which women are taking advantage of the educational facilities now granted them by their admission to our Universities. Let us have equal political rights, and I do not fear the consequences. Woman’s influence would be on the side of peace and purity, just laws, and the protection of the home. Yes, it is that the homes of our country may be purer and happier than they are that we ask for the franchise. We, who have children growing up in our homes, are deeply interested in the government of our country, and we mothers think that we ought to have some voice as to the education of our children. As to that great curse of our country – drunkenness – how long would our present licensing laws remain in force if we had the ballot? Ah! too many women know to their cost that the law does not protect their homes, when it allows temptations to drunkenness to be placed so thickly in our streets, and when their husbands come home reeling with drink, and when the wages that should feed and clothe the little ones are in the publican’s till. The question of compensation would be settled, I fancy, somewhat differently than as it remains at present, and to women it would probably appear that the persons most needing compensation were the sufferers from the traffic, not those who make money by the degradation of their fellow creatures. And what of our young men and women who have to leave the parental roof? It is all very well to say make home attractive and your children will stay there. Those who have beautiful homes, far away from public-houses, can shield their sons and daughters as the poorer classes cannot. Neither can our children always be under the shelter of home. And what horrible traps are laid for them – temptations to vice flaunt themselves in our streets. Can they not be purified? There is a saying (too often quoted) to the effect that men cannot be made sober by Acts of Parliament, but it seems to us that it is only as regards drunkenness that such nonsense is talked. What is government for, but to protect the interests of the people – their health, their wealth and their morals? The State punishes theft and does not license thieving dens or schools for theft. It punishes drunkenness, but actually licenses the manufacture and sale of that which produces as much misery and causes the loss of thousands of lives yearly. Let it close these drunkard factories, and dissolve its existing partnership in this business. And as to laws which concern the protection of life and property, judging by the sentences awarded to offences against the person, it is a much greater offence in the eyes of the law to steal a coat than to beat or abuse a woman even to the risk of her life. It seems to us that too much of your legislation has been on the principle that might is right. You regard the ballot as the great means of protecting yourselves from oppression and injustice. Are you afraid to put the same power into our weaker hands? But is there danger to be apprehended by granting such a measure? With every liberty there is not only responsibility, but necessarily a certain amount of risk. If you teach a child to read, you give him the power to read bad books as well as good. Bad women would exercise an evil influence, no doubt, but there is a much smaller proportion of bad women than men. You give the franchise to a criminal, if not actually in gaol, (on the supposition, I presume, that he is reformed) and if you are willing to take the risk with men, why not take a smaller risk with women? Some, again, see danger to the peace of the home in possible disputes on political matters, while other say it would be no use giving women a vote, they would simply do as they were told. In the latter case no harm would be done – the vote would simply be doubled; while as to the former, I imagine that those who dread this do not know how to govern their households. If a home is rightly managed, there may be discussion, but not quarrelling, and discussion will do no harm, only good. In asking this we are not asking the State to make a dangerous experiment. Where a partial franchise has been given, as in the Isle of Man, and in Kansas territory, women have proved themselves intelligent voters, and their influence in politics has been beneficial, while in the State of Wyoming where women enjoy equal political rights, the testimony as to its benefits is decisive, and comes from governors, judges, superintendents of school boards, and many prominent citizens. Better legislators, better laws, and quietness and order at the polling booths, have been the result of more than twenty-one years trial of it. I am not anxious to quote great names, but a measure which has had the support of men like Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ward Beecher, Joseph Cook and Charles Kingsley, and women such as Frances Willard, Mary Livermore, and Frances Power Cobbe, and many others of whose intellectual attainments, high-toned character, and self-denying lives command our respect, cannot be consigned to ridicule. You do appreciate the help of woman in many ways that take her out of her home. To relieve distress, to visit the poor, to nurse the sick – these are duties which specially belong to women, and we find that women of every creed, who have the opportunity, are spending their time and energies in these works of benevolence, and just because they are doing so they are finding out the need for woman’s influence in politics. Woman’s sympathies are being broadened by co-operation with those of her own sex, and also with men, for wise and good ends, and thus they are being prepared for wisely using the power which enfranchisement will give. Woman’s vote will be on the side of that righteousness which exalteth a nation, and will make for peace. Women have to bear the heavier burden of all the social ills which afflict our race. Let her come to the help of the State in finding a remedy for them. We think you need us. Much has been done in the way of reforms already, but very much more remains to be done. Although we do not want legislation too much in advance of public sentiment, we think that legislation should lead the way, and not lag behind when reform is needed. We are not clamorous, but do not think that because we work on quietly, and patiently wait for the time when you will open your polling booths to us, that we are careless about it. The women of this country are uniting to help your societies, and the churches also, in fighting the battle against evil. Give us the weapon you find so needful. Call women to your aid in this battle for truth and righteousness, and let her take her rightful place in the State as well as in the home. (Loud applause)

The Chairman called on Mrs. Humble, of Geelong, to open the discussion Mrs. Humble, who was received with loud applause, said :- Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I do not feel at all able to take up this question in the way I would like, seeing that I have only just been told that I am expected to open the debate. I trust you will kindly bear with me if what I say appears to be disconnected. I feel that this question was so ably handled this morning by the hon. the Premier, and by our old friend, Mr. W.M.K. Vale, as well as by the reader of the paper, that there is very little for me to say. I think what was said at the breakfast table this morning has more weight than anything I have heard on the subject. I allude to the remark that our Gracious Queen has reigned over us for fifty years, yet we are allowed to help make the laws, of our country. I think, therefore, that it is high time we women in Victoria woke up to our best interests. Mrs. McLean said in her paper that every good husband fairly represented us, but what is to be done for those who have no husbands? (Laughter) God, when he made man, thought it not good for him to be alone, so he made woman to be his helpmate, and you will have been told by ministers, by legislators, and others, that the women, their mothers, their wives, or their sisters are their best helpmates. If we have been such good friends to the men in the past, why should we not become s better friend in future, and help the men to make the laws that govern? The great question of the day, some may think, is the land boom, or the great strike, but we women think that the greatest and mightiest question of the day is the drink traffic. We were told this morning that our womanhood, by this traffic, is drawn down to the lowest depths of degradation, but we have made up our minds to do our best to alter this state of affairs. You applauded the sentiments this morning, and quite coincided with all that was said in reference to woman’s franchise. We have seen so much and read so much about the question, that we mean to work a great deal, and we want you to help us. Reference was made this morning to what the new Parliament would be like, and I feel that if the Parliament now in existence would only give woman their rights – their franchise – there will be far better men sent to represent us in the next Parliament than there ever have been in the past. (Cheers) All honor to those men who have represented us, who continue to do so. We shall pray for them earnestly, and uphold their hands in every good work. We have been praying in our various unions for our legislators, to help them in their endeavors to make better laws. Yet those men represent only half the number of inhabitants of the colony. It is very frequently the case that in country districts, having two representatives, one will be a good man, and the other a publican’s man. We women therefore want the franchise so as to be able to help you send two good men into Parliament instead of only one, (Applause)

Mrs. Varcoe said : - One objection made to woman suffrage is that there will be discord created in the home circle, the husband going in one direction and the wife in another. I wonder who influences the husband today as to the way in which he is to vote. Another objection raised by many of our gentlemen friends is that if the women are successful in securing the franchise, they will want seats in Parliament. Why should not a woman who, in the arrangement of her home affairs shows more skill than a lawyer in conducting his business, not be capable of taking a seat in Parliament? (Applause) The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. (Cheers) I wonder who has shown the greatest ability in forming the characters of the men of the present day? – the great men who have led us on in every high and noble vocation in life? Who instilled into their minds the principles of honor and virtue, and formed their characters, which have biased their lives and enabled them to be a blessing to the world? I say it is the women. (Cheers) The young man going out into the temptations of Melbourne life may forget sometimes the counsels of his father, but while hastening on when he is faced with the vice that exists in this wicked Melbourne, as well as in other large cities, he will remember the advice of his mother and her words of help and counsel, and will be deterred from grieving her who reared him and formed his character. There is another objection raised by many of our gentlemen friends, to which I might refer. It is said that if you put into the hand of every girl of twenty-one the power to vote, you will bring ruin and disgrace on the nation. We don’t think so. We think that she will use her discretion as to how she will vote. We think these splendid girls of ours could teach the boys a lesson. (Laughter and applause) We know of instances of young men being on the verge of temptation, but the words of counsel of the girls have kept them from it. We believe that if the girls had the power to vote, and received an education which would enable them to write papers such as Mrs. McLean’s, great good would be done. We believe that the girls of this country will demand that men be returned to Parliament who will save their brothers from the power of evil, in the shape of strong drink. (Applause) We feel sure that the day will come when we will give the death blow to the great drink traffic which reduced men and women almost to the level of the brute beast; that is causing little children today to lament their neglected state. We believe the day is coming when common-sense womanhood will rise with all her might and say, we will overcome this drink traffic, and will not have a law for licensing the sale of intoxicating drinks. When we get all the women in Victoria sufficiently educated to this point we will call a monster meeting in the Exhibition building and prepare a list, which we will take to Parliament-house. We will say to the representatives – “This is our work, and we want you to help us. We will put you into power, if you will join with us in giving the death-blow to the traffic.” I would ask every woman who interests herself in this subject – there are many who do not get sufficient time to study – to try to get a womanhood suffrage, and when we do we will try to use it with care and discretion. (Applause)

Mr. Wood-Green, secretary of the S. Australian Alliance said : - I would like to offer the congratulations of the South Australian Alliance to the Victorian Alliance on the grand gatherings of last night and today. I feel it a privilege to be able to convey to you the fraternal greetings of a sister Alliance, striving for the same glorious end that you are fighting for so valiantly in Victoria. Victoria has taken the lead in certain matters that the Alliance are striving for, but not altogether in the best way. I refer to the matter of compensation, which you accepted as a compromise. I am hopeful that Mr. Vale’s suggestion of last night, as to the beer tax, will be carried out. I am agreeable to that, and hope it will be a heavy one, but I hope also that you will sweep away compensation. (Applause) I am an old Victorian, but I have been away from Melbourne for twelve or thirteen years, and am only acquainted with what is going on here by what I read in the papers. In South Australia we are nothing like so strong as you are in your working power. I must confess that since I have been in Melbourne I have been very envious of you. We are a feeble folk in South Australia, but very determined. Though four years ago we were behind any other colony in temperance legislation, I believe that now the temperance sentiment is quite in line with that of Victoria or any of the other colonies. Our present Government has introduced a Licensed Victuallers' Amendment Bill, and they propose to give us a kind of statutory number such as you have, but the proposal is differently worded. It is proposed to do away with the right of renewal which the publicans now have, but only on condition that fifteen years compensation is granted. The Alliance has said to the Government, which is beginning to realise that we are a power, and can defeat any bill we choose to set our faces against, that we will accept no bill that does give us the right to say "no licenses," and that there must be a reduction of licenses. We will oppose the bill if it does not give us that power. We will say to our friends in the House that we do not mind five or seven years' compensation, provided we get the right to say – "License or no license." We will not in South Australia accept any compromise on the question. We will have a full Local Option Bill, or none at all. I was greatly delighted with the paper read by Mr. Mauger, and hope Mr. Vale will have extra copies struck off for circulation in South Australia. Our workers have not a Trades-hall as you have here, but I wrote to the Trades and Labor Council asking them to join us in making Local Option part of the platform of the working classes. I also asked them to discontinue the holding of meetings in hotels. I heartily agree with womanhood suffrage. In South Australia last year Mr. Caldwell introduced a bill into the Lower House for giving the franchise to women holding property. The Lower House passed the bill, but in the Council it was defeated by one vote. I am glad to say that the women who advocate in South Australia womanhood suffrage repudiate absolutely the provisions of that Bill. They demand that womanhood, and not property, should be recognised. (Cheers.) I was very pleased to hear Mr. Munro say last night that the Cabinet had unanimously decided to introduce a measure for granting the suffrage to women. I feel that you will have it here before we have it in South Australia, but I would urge you not to make a property distinction. Give it to woman on account of her womanhood, or hold it back until the people sufficiently recognise that it is womanhood, and not money, that ought to be regarded. Mr. Munro said he was surprised at the clearness with which the deputation of women put their reasons before him. From the time women have taken a part in temperance and social reforms I have been impressed with their superiority to men. It is an astonishing thing, but you will find that we men often ramble round a circle, but the women go straight to the point. From the time of the Exhibition until now, I have been struck with the conciseness of expression of a woman’s speech. I cannot conceive of any man of common sense listening to the addresses of women connected with our union denying that they are entitled to a franchise. A woman that would sell her vote for a glass of ale, or anything else, would be one in a thousand, but with men it would be one in a hundred, or one in twenty. You would never find woman prostituting the franchise as men do. I do very heartily congratulate you, in the name of the Alliance I represent, and wish you every success you hope to achieve. (Applause)

The Chairman read a letter which stated that the Herald of that day contained a lengthy report of the doings of the Conference, and a verbatim report of Mr. Mauger's paper on "Labor Problems and the Liquor Traffic." Such enterprise was well worthy of encouragement. (Applause) Mr. Vale had sent for a large number of copies of the Herald and everyone present when they left the hall would be able to obtain a copy.

Mrs. Fryer said – I have studied the question of woman’s franchise, and I have been puzzled to know why it should be called "Women’s Rights", and how it is you men came to have the right. I sometimes think we ought to read history more than we do. At one time one man ruled the nation. Henry VIII was sole monarch, but the people were discontented and held meetings with the result that we are befitting by what they achieved. Why should men have what they call their rights, and why should they be expected to confer them on women? Women were placed at their birth on equality with men, and it offends me to hear a woman ever thanked for anything. I did not like to hear this morning the sentiment of "The Ladies." Why should we be put on one side and thought to be different to the men? We are equal to the men. (Laughter and applause) I am very proud this day to know that I belong to a society which recognises women as well as men, and that all are on an equal footing in all that concerns our church. The women of today are almost as much in bondage as those in the East who are not allowed to see any men. It is a shame for a man to scoff at a woman who has views of her own. It should be a matter of pride for men to know that women are coming forward to take their proper position. (Cheers) On the School Boards in England there are many great and good women. It is a matter of education, and I think sometimes that when we get the franchise – when we have this right that the men are going to give us – the first thing we will do will be to destroy the public-houses, which are such abominations. We think that had we been in power as long as the men, those public-houses would not have been allowed to exist. Women go for the right, and I particularly say to those who are present today, that they should not allow themselves to be turned aside because their husbands do not believe as they do. If a man and woman are joined together and have not the same opinions let them agree to differ. (Laughter and applause) You may laugh, but this is a serious matter. I often feel very sorry, on taking a petition for Woman Suffrage round for signature, to hear a woman say – "Oh, I could not sign that. My husband would not let me. " I say, "Then agree to differ; your husband is 200 years behind the times." (Laughter) At a discussion on "Woman’s Rights", as it is called, recently, a young man proposed an amendment, and said he would have the women educated and trained for business, something like butchers and bakers. Now, I strongly object to being trained like a butcher or baker. (Laughter) I prefer to be a woman. (Applause) Education is not obtained only from books. It does not mean going to school. It means keeping your eyes open and being alive to the times, and striving to do what is right. If men would live up to the sixth chapter of St. Paul to the Romans, the grandest principles of life would be carried out. It means simply to do as we would be done by. (Loud applause)

Mrs. Harrison Lee, who rose in response to calls from the audience, said – I will just touch on one or two points in favour of Womanhood Suffrage. We are responsible to the laws of our land, though we have no share in making them. Putting aside for a moment the liquor laws, there are others I would like to touch upon. A mother, who is a married woman, has no claim to her child. A Chinaman married an Irish servant girl, and three days after their baby was born he sent it away to China to be reared in heathendom. The poor mother thought she had the right to her own baby, and went to law to endeavour to have it restored to her, but the judge said that the father only had a right to it, and the mother was powerless in the matter. Again, a young dressmaker who had saved a little money, fell in love with a penniless young man who was dying of consumption, and she married him for the sake of taking care of him. She lavished on him all her woman's self-sacrificing love in order to protect and care for him in his last days. Just before his death he asked to be allowed to make his will, although he had no money to leave, or even enough to pay the lawyer to draw up the will. But the young wife paid the lawyer out of her own money, so as to humor her dying husband. He died and her baby came. The mother was proud of her little one, and loved it with all her mother’s love, and thought it was going to be her blessing and her comfort, but soon afterwards strangers came from another part and claimed the baby. The mother said, "No, it is my child." They then produced the will that she had paid for, and it was found that the man had willed his own baby away to other people, and the woman could not stand against it. The law said the man could do what he liked with his wife’s child. Women are not considered to be the legal guardians of their own children. If she is unmarried she has a claim on them, but if married she has not. Is it not time that women had some voice in repealing such a law which is so unjust to womanhood? (Cheers) We appeal to you men to give us back our God-given right, which He who was all wise and far-seeing gave into the hands of the man and the woman, the power to rue over the world. Many wrongs would soon be righted, injustice would be swept away, and a better and holier nation would be the result.

Mrs. Angus McLean said : - I am in a position today, which I never expected to occupy. Long years ago I was one of the members of the first Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society. A few of us banded together to try to procure for women equal rights with men. Our efforts were looked lightly upon, and we were ridiculed and stigmatised as "strong-minded women." I don’t know what it meant by that term, but it was obviously one of degradation. We hoped to alleviate the sufferings of women as many of us were fortunately well placed with good husbands and good homes, and everything our hearts could wish. Seeing so many less fortunately situated, and knowing that the laws by which they were governed were largely the cause of their sufferings, we thought we would be able to bring pressure to bear in order to have those wrongs remedied. For years our labors seemed in vain, but after a while the principle for which we contended was adopted by the Alliance, and I can assure you that the most formidable weapon you have in your armoury is Womanhood Suffrage. When women have votes then only will you secure all you are aiming at, and that is the welfare of our fellow- colonists. I think that in this assembly, which is composed of hundreds of men and women, there are none but myself who belonged to the original society. We were heartily glad to hand the matter over to such capable hands, and we know well that all we struggled for will surely be won. With us it was indeed “the cause that lacked assistance”, and the wrongs that needed resistance; we were powerless to help. In the coming election every candidate will have the question put to him, "Are you favorable to Women Suffrage?" If the candidate says "Yes" then you will have to see to it that he is returned, and that he afterwards keeps his word. In that way only will you make an end to the present discord in our community. I wish you God-speed; we feel you are better able to carry on the work than we were, and we feel pleased to leave it to you, (Applause)