State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 31 April 1983

64

Votes for Women: The Woman's Franchise League of Ballarat

The minute book of the Woman's Franchise League of Ballarat was presented to the Library by the late J.K. Moir. The minutes cover the period 29 May 1894 to 16 June 1896 and although brief, filling only half a slim exercise book, provide rare contemporary evidence of the suffrage campaign.
The Ballarat Woman's Franchise League can be located within an organizational framework which began in Victoria in 1884 when Harriet Dugdale formed the first society in this State to agitate for women's voting rights. Five years later, Dr William Maloney introduced a Bill in support of woman suffrage. Maloney's Bill was not passed but the suffrage campaign continued. In 1890, the Women's Christian Temperance Union in conjunction with the Victorian Alliance collected over 30,000 signatures on a petition for woman suffrage.1 Subsequently the W.C.T.U. founded the Victorian Women's Franchise League as a separate organization in April 1894. The minutes of the Ballarat League record an early decision to collaborate with the Victorian organization.
At the first meeting of those Ballarat citizens interested in establishing a local suffrage organization, it was moved that a public forum be called to discuss the formation of a franchise league. The Anglican Bishop presided at the meeting of 11 June 1894 and warned that he would step down from the chair if any lady was to address the mixed assembly. The Rev. J. Stretch was the first speaker to address the meeting in favour of the franchise.
He based his address upon refutation of a letter which had appeared in a leading newspaper. The letter, a plaintive cry against votes for women, expressed the fear ‘that England, hearing that we are ruled by women, will recall her loans.’ The meeting generally favoured the notion of franchise for women and only a single dissenter was reported, Mr F.W. Niven. The Ballarat Star noted that Niven ‘thought it would bring them down to the level of men … women were too emotional they could not use the same calm judgement as man [sic.], and homes would be neglected. He believed the marriage rate would be lowered’.2
The Ballarat Woman's Franchise League was established with the following constitution:
1.
That in the opinion of this meeting a women's Franchise League be formed in Ballarat independent of any party, section or narrow interest.
2.
That the object of this League shall be to obtain the franchise for women upon the same conditions as those which apply to men.
3.
That any person over the age of 21 paying the sum of 1 shilling annually shall be a member of the League and entitled to attend all the general meetings.
4.
That the council of the League shall consist of the following officers:— President, two vice-presidents, two secretaries, a treasurer, and 18 ordinary members, all of whom shall be elected at the annual general meeting; vacancies shall be filled up by the vote of the council.
The second resolution, the object of the League, was later amended by the additional clause, ‘with only this exception that it be distinctly understood that it is not a part of the constitution to admit women into official responsible positions as members of Parliament, City Councils, etc.’
In December 1894, South Australia became the first state to grant the franchise to women and the right to sit. The struggle persisted in Victoria, opposed by groups such as the Anti-Suffrage Society. Women in Victoria received the right to vote in this State in 1908 but the right to sit was denied them until 1923.
JENNIFER FEENEY
65

1

Brownfoot, J.N. Women's organizations and the woman movement in Victoria c.1890 to c.1908. B.A. Hons. Thesis. Dept. of History, Monash University. 1968. p.24.

2

Ballarat Star, 12 June 1894.