Edward Stirling the first to introduce a bill into parliament in 1886 to give women voting right

 

Edward Charles Stirling was the first person in Australasia to introduce a parliamentary bill to allow women the right to vote, in 1886.

Stirling, a distinguished scientist, followed his father (the Adelaide Hills town is named after him) in 1884 by becoming a member of South Australia’s Legislative Council.

A year after his election, he proposed that women “who fulfil the conditions and possess the qualifications on which the parliamentary franchise for the Legislative Council is granted to men, shall, like them, be admitted to the franchise for both Houses of Parliament.” He quoted Plato: “There is no natural difference between the sexes except in strength and both should equally participate in the government of the state.”

Stirling wanted his daughters to grow up in a fairer society. In 1886, he introduced a formal bill for women's suffrage into the parliament. Although this wasn’t passed, a few years later South Australia became the first Australian colony to give women the vote.

Stirling also believed in women’s right to a proper education. He lectured at the Advanced School for Girls and campaigned for women to be admitted to Adelaide University's school of medicine. His own five daughters benefited from an excellent education. Harriet earned an OBE for her work with mothers and children and Jane achieved a science degree from Adelaide University and later played viola in the South Australian Orchestra.

Edward Stirling was appointed the first president of the State Children's Council by its founder Catherine Helen Spence. A later president was his oldest daughter Harriet who founded the Mothers and Babies Health Association with Helen Mayo.

Other related ADELAIDEAZ articles

Suffrage cause grows from alliance for temperance, working conditions, social purity

The main groups involved in the South Australian campaign to get the women's right to vote were the Women's Suffrage League, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and the Working Women's Trade Union. The Women's Suffrage League, set up in 1888, organised petitions, lobbied MPs and mustered many women to attend debates. Mary Lee was secretary, Rosetta Birks treasurer. Mary Colton became president in 1891 and Catherine Helen Spence joined that year.

 

Lucy Morice, niece of Catherine Helen Spence, promotes kindergartens as way to a just society

Kindergartens became the most passionate cause of Lucy Morice, a social reformer alongside her aunt and close friend Catherine Helen Spence. In 1905, she helped to found the Kindergarten Union of South Australia as a way to a just society. Her compassion for children caused her, with Helen Mayo, to found the School for Mothers Institute in 1909. Also in that year, Morice started the Women's (later Non-Party) Political Association, succeeding Spence as its president.

Caroline Emily Clark proposes family foster care for children to end institutional poverty

Caroline Emily Clark, in the 1860s, led South Australia into being the first Australian colony to take children out of government institutions and into boarding-out family foster care, to break their poverty cycle. Foster families would be paid a government subsidy for the child’s support. After initial government reluctance, Clark’s boarding-out system was enshrined in South Australian law that also set up industrial and reformatory schools. The Boarding Out Society was absorbed by the State Children’s Council in 1886. Clark, who came from England to join brother John Howard Clark (owner of the Register newspaper) in 1863, floated her idea from what she had seen in Scotland. She was also spurred on by fellow Unitarian Annie Montgomerie Martin.

Spence at centre of push for vote; the first female candidate for a political position in Australia

After seeing South Australian women gain the vote and right to stand as candidates in 1894, Catherine Helen Spence, with her niece Lucy Morice, founded the Woman's League (that later made way for the Women’s Non-Party Political Association) “to educate women politically and to work for the interests of women and children”. In 1897, she became Australia’s first female political candidate after standing (unsuccessfully) for office at the Federal Convention in Adelaide.

Advanced School the first public secondary school for girls in Australia from 1879

Building on health reformer Dr Allan Campbell's initial proposal, Catherine Helen Spence and John Anderson Hartley were prime movers in creating the Advanced School for Girls in 1879. This first public secondary school for girls in Australia was 40 years ahead of the first public secondary school for boys in South Australia. The Education Act 1875, making education compulsory, acknowledged women’s changing role and the pressing need for well-educated teachers. The Advanced School for Girls had a curriculum leading to matriculation for university. Until 1898, all University of Adelaide female graduates were former Advanced School students.
 

Radical preacher Serena Lake argues Biblical case for equality and women's right to vote

Preacher Serena Thorne Lake was radical in her Biblical view of the equality of women – but women in the role of moral guardians in the family home. In 1888, she seconded the motion for the founding of the South Australian Women’s Suffrage League. Lake became a leader of the votes-for-women campaign as a way get the power to curb the “abominable liquor traffic” but she believed women’s equality to be “the original design of the Creator”. Lake had been invited to Adelaide in 1870 by Bible Christians Samuel Way (future chief justice) and Dr Allan Campbell, a pioneer of South Australia’s health system. Two thousand people heard her preach at Adelaide Town Hall.

Contact Us

We welcome positive constructive feedback