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.

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