Home The WCTU & the 1891 Woman's Petition


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Suffrage and Temperance

Suffrage and Temperance Organisations

In the 1890s temperance groups supported suffrage groups in the campaign for woman suffrage. It was the network structure of the temperance groups, particularly the WCTU supported by the Victorian Alliance, and their use of media, particularly the Alliance Record which contributed to the large number of signatures being collected in only a few weeks.The Woman's Petition was an example of a number of groups joining together for one cause.

However, the support of the temperance groups could also be seen as being detrimental to the suffrage cause. The alcohol industry had connections with members of parliament and other business interests and strongly lobbied against the granting of female suffrage. There was a fear that allowing women to vote would alter the balance of power in parliament and legislation could be introduced that would impact upon the alcohol industry.

The campaign against the alcohol industry created a contradiction for the WCTU. In the 1890s many of the publicans of Melbourne hotels were women. Although the women of the WCTU were concerned about the evil of the effects of alcohol, especially on working class families, they also supported the right of the women hotel keepers have the independence to run their own business. This support for women to work however did not extend to the women who worked as barmaids. The WCTU considered barmaids should be banned from working in hotels.

The WCTU continued to support woman suffrage, especially in regard to ensuring that women were fully informed about the issues and were in a position so that when they did have the right to vote, they would use the vote well. During the following years new suffrage groups were established and the WCTU became affiliated with some groups and generally supported the suffrage organisations in their continuing campaign for the right for women to vote.

Two suffrage groups in Victoria in 1891 were the Victorian Suffrage Society and Australian Women's Suffrage Society.


Victorian Women's Suffrage Society

The Victorian Women's Suffrage Society (VWSS) was created in 1884 by Henrietta Dugdale and Annie Lowe.
The first general meeting of the VWSS was held on 23 June where Henritta Dugdale proposed the motion, seconded by Annie Lowe, -

To obtain the same political privileges for women as now possessed by male voters, with the restriction of an educational test by writing legibly the name of the candidate on the ballot paper.

By July 1886 membership of the VWSS had reached 257. A major proposal was to work towards the introduction of a women's suffrage bill annually into Parliament until successful.
In the late 1880s membership of the VWSS decreased, partly due to the creation of new suffrage groups.


Further information

Organisations involved in the fight for the vote - Victorian Women Vote 1908-2008
The Victorian Womenís Suffrage Society (1884 - 1908) - Australian Women's Archives Project
O'Donnell, Kate. Henrietta Dugdale: He-woman or pioneer suffragist in They are but women: the road to female suffrage in Victoria. 2nd ed.Suffrage City Press. 2008


Australian Women's Suffrage Society

Brettena Smythe formed the Australian Womenís Suffrage Society in 1888 after leaving the Victorian Womenís Suffrage Society because of her outspoken opinions on birth control.

Membership of the society was open to both men and women and a prominent member was Dr William Maloney, a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly, who regularly introduced several (unsuccessful) womenís suffrage bills into parliament.

The Australian Women's Suffrage Society disbanded after Brettena Smythe died in 1898.


Further information

Organisations involved in the fight for the vote - Victorian Women Vote 1908-2008
O'Donnell, Kate. Henrietta Dugdale: He-woman or pioneer suffragist in They are but women: the road to female suffrage in Victoria. 2nd ed.Suffrage City Press. 2008
The Australian Womenís Suffrage Society (1888 - 1898) - Australian Women's Archives Project




In the 1880s the various temperance groups in Victoria had affiliated to become the Victorian Alliance.

Victorian Alliance

Victorian Alliance for the Suppression of Liquor Traffic was formed in 1881. It had evolved from the Permissive Bill Association. James Munro was founding president of the Victorian Alliance.
It was the Victorian Alliance that arranged for the deputation on Woman Suffrage to the premier in May 1891 and members of the Victorian Alliance strongly supported the work of the WCTU, especially in relation to the collection of signatures for the Woman's Petition.

The Victorian Alliance provided the voice for many of the smaller temperance organisations in Victoria primarily through the publication of the Alliance Record - from 1881 to October 1887 as a monthly publication then bi-weekly until July 1892 when it returned to monthly publication. The issues published in 1891 included a page for the WCTU to use for communication with WCTU members. The Alliance Record therefore was a valuable tool for providing WCTU members and other readers with the latest information about WCTU activities. The Victorian Alliance annual conference provided opportunity for members of temperance groups to get together to discuss issues and strategies. In 1891 a section of the conference was devoted to the discussion of woman suffrage. Transcriptions of many of the sessions were published in the Alliance Record.