Women's suffrage experts: 100 years later in Victoria

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

30 September 2008: Australian Catholic University (ACU) is hosting an exhibition of some newly uncovered historical photographs and artefacts to celebrate the centenary of women's suffrage in Victoria. Leading women's history experts from ACU and the University of Melbourne will present papers on 9 October to launch the month-long exhibition.

The “Balance at the Ballot Box” exhibition launch will feature presentations by Dr. Sophie McGrath and Dr. Ellen Warne of ACU and Professor Patricia Grimshaw from the University of Melbourne, all leading scholars in women’s history and the struggle for suffrage.

“There are some fascinating stories in this suffrage history: stories of inclusion and exclusion that weave themselves through the exhibition we are presenting. The facsimiles of letters, the cartoons and photographs, the earnest papers and the ‘monster petition’ give us fascinating evidence of the suffrage struggle,” said Dr Warne.
“Just in the last year, Australians have welcomed two women as leaders of the Australian people: Julia Gillard and Quentin Bryce. One was elected by the people and one was appointed by the Queen, yet both ardently feel that their appointments are to represent the community of women.”

“For the women of 1908 highlighted in the exhibit, the ideas Quentin Bryce put forward would have struck deep chords. Early feminists made strong arguments that women in politics would provide tenderness and a capacity to engage with problems in society that men may have seen as impossible to change. They pointed to role models in the near and distant past to show that women could achieve change,” Dr. Warne said.

“In this process we discovered that there are hidden histories of Catholic women’s involvement that have not been given much publicity to date,” said Dr. Sophie McGrath of the Golding Centre for Women’s Spirituality at ACU.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to sign a replica of the famous “monster petition” calico banner, just as 30,000 women did in 1891. Despite this show of force, women in Victoria were not given the right to vote until 1908, six years after the right was granted nationally.

“With the original documents in this exhibition, the long struggle for women’s suffrage becomes tangible. The words and images show that women of that era did not just want women leaders, they wanted women to be fully engaged within the democratic system and be able to vote. It’s a right we should never take for granted,” added Dr. Warne.

Australian Catholic University (ACU) established as Australia’s only Catholic, national, publicly funded university is open to all. The University empowers its students and staff with a strong sense of social responsibility and concern for the moral and ethical dimensions of their study and their professional and personal lives.


Event:   Balance at the Ballot Box suffrage exhibition launch

When:   5:00 to 6.00 pm, Thursday 9 October 2008

Where:  Mercy Lecture Theatre
              ACU Melbourne Campus
              115 Victoria Parade, Fitzroy.

“Balance at the Ballot Box” runs from 9 October – 30 October in the ACU Melbourne Campus foyer.

The launch event and the exhibition are both open to the public.