Elizabeth Webb Nicholls leads the temperance movement into broader range of social causes

Elizabeth Webb Nicholls, a powerhouse of the temperance movement, was involved in wider women’s issues.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

Elizabeth Webb Nicholls, daughter and niece of House of Assembly members Samuel and William Bakewell, made her public-speaking début at a Methodist women's conference in 1885.

Next year, she was a founding member of Adelaide's Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WTCU) and, in 1891, was one of the first women admitted to the South Australian Temperance Alliance that had the prime aim of ending access to alcohol in the colony. 

She was inspired by the American temperance worker Frances E. Willard and, in 1889, became the WCTU’s South Australian president and Australasian president (1894-1903). She founded and edited the WCTU's journal, Our Federation, and attended conferences in Paris, London, Edinburgh and Geneva.

Nicholls took the temperance movement into wider causes, most notably votes for women. A councillor of the Women's Suffrage League, Nicholls, with Serena Thorne Lake, helped gather, through the WCTU, 8,268 of the 11,600 signatures for the 1894 suffrage petition to parliament.

Nicholls was a member from 1909 of the Women's Non-Party Political Association. As its president in 1911, when she led a deputation to premier John Verran stressing the need for women jurors, justices of the peace, police matrons, and for sex instruction for young people. Later, Nicholls was a life vice-president of the League of Women Voters.

Nicholls led women in government appointments: in 1895-1922, as a member of the strife-torn Adelaide Hospital Board; in 1906, on the royal commission on the treatment of inebriates. As a justice of the peace, she sat at the Children’s Court. Mrs Nicholls advocated female appointments for other states and argued for prison reform and juvenile courts. She sought improved conditions for working women and was a shareholder in the women's South Australian Co-operative Clothing Co.

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