Charles Kingston sees women's suffrage bill passed by parliament of South Australia in 1894

Premier Charles Cameron Kingston described women’s voting as the colony's “greatest constitutional reform”.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

Premier Charles Cameron Kingston had initially opposed the concept of votes for women but he had brought in other important laws benefitting women such as the Married Women’s Property Act 1883.

He was persuaded by ministerial colleagues John Cockburn and Frederick Holder and lobbied by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union to introduce a bill for South Australia to become the first Australian state to introduce full adult suffrage.

After three failed attempts over nine years to gain suffrage, women's rights groups had redoubled their efforts, encouraged by New Zealand women getting the vote in 1893. They travelled all over the colony (including the Northern Territory) collecting signatures.

On August 23, 1894, when the Adult Suffrage Bill was read in the South Australian parliament, the women presented a petition with 11,600 signatures and 122 metres long. In December 18, women were granted both the right to vote and to stand as candidates for parliament – the first legislation in the world of its kind.

Ironically, the right of women to stand for election to parliament was gained through the machinations of those who wanted to wreck the bill. They thought that adding the right for women to be elected to parliament would automatically be mocked and the bill would collapse. It did not. The final vote was 31-14, three more than the required majority.

Premier Kingston described it as the colony's “greatest constitutional reform” but Queen Victoria called it a “mad, wicked folly”. She signed the assent in 1895.

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