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

Serena Thorne Lake believed that women getting the vote would curb the “abominable liquor traffic”.
Image courtesy State Library of South Australia

Serena Thorne Lake, in 1888, seconded the motion for the founding of the South Australian Women’s Suffrage League. Lake supported women’s suffrage because she believed women’s equality to be “the original design of the Creator”.

Lake had been invited to Adelaide in 1870 by Bible Christians (future chief justice) Samuel Way and Allan Campbell, a pioneer of South Australia’s health system. Two thousand people heard her preach at Adelaide Town Hall.

She stayed in South Australia after marrying Bible Christian minister Octavius Lake. Beside opening churches on Yorke Peninsula, Lake travelled widely to start branches of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and campaign for women’s suffrage.

Lakes was confident that women “possessing that sword: the ballot” would curb the “abominable liquor traffic”. Battling alcoholism – and its effect on families – was the core of the national temperance movement.  Nationally, the temperance fight against alcoholism and prostitution has been interpreted having an element of control by the Protestant middle class over the working class, particularly the Irish Catholics. Arguments for suffrage had a theme of women’s equality – but in the family home as moral guardians.

Conversely, two powerhouses of the South Australian WCTU and the suffrage movement, Elizabeth Webb Nicholls and Serena Thorne Lake, made their mark in the public arena. Lake, just in her role as a woman preacher, was a radical.

South Australia, in its special liberal Christianity, also allowed a Catholic woman, Mary MacKillop, to act out her beliefs in the public realm. That liberalism continued to show through in the South Australian Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Its 1937 convention urged equal citizenship rights for Aboriginal people. It also helped form the South Australian Joint Committee for Equal Pay (1940–72).

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