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Suffragettes and philanthropists: leaders in the good work

Booked out

10 March 2020, 6:00pm7:15pm
Location Conversation Quarter
The Quad
Accessibility Has wheelchair access

At the turn of the 20th century, Australia was an international exemplar of progressive welfare reform. Philanthropists like Janet Lady Clarke built a strong foundation for social welfare; suffragettes like Fanny Finch, Vida Goldstein and Doris Blackburn ardently fought for equality for women.

But the 1902 Commonwealth Franchise Act only granted white Australian women full and universal suffrage. As Clare Wright says in You daughters of freedom, ‘This racial qualifier takes a good deal of the gloss off patriotic gloating.’

Learn about the history of social welfare and women’s suffrage in Australia, and the work that still needs to be done.


Santilla Chingaipe is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. Her work explores migration, cultural identities and politics, and she is a member of the federal government’s advisory group in Australia–Africa relations. Santilla was recognised at the United Nations as one of the most influential people of African descent in 2019. She reports regularly for The Saturday Paper and her film credits include the landmark SBS documentary, Date my race. Her latest documentary series, Third culture kids, is currently streaming on ABC iView.


Kelly Gardiner was a creative fellow at State Library Victoria in 2017, where she focused on two generations of feminists: during the First World War, and in the 1980s. Her latest children’s book is Brimstone, first in The Firewatcher Chronicles. Her novels include 1917, Act of faith, The sultan’s eyes, the Swashbuckler trilogy and Goddess. She teaches at La Trobe University.

Celeste Liddle is an Arrernte woman living in Melbourne. She is a union organiser, a social commentator and freelance writer and a noted activist who, in 2017, was inducted into the Victorian Women's Honour Roll. Celeste has a column at Eureka Street and her work has also recently featured at Whimn, ABC and Network 10.

Dr Carolyn Rasmussen’s work as a public historian since 1985 has ranged over the history of Victorian public institutions, the labour movement, science and technology, education, and biography. She is currently an honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne and chair of the Victorian Working Party of the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Her most recent publication is The Blackburns: private lives, public ambition.

Carolyn Fraser is Lead Curator at State Library Victoria. She curated the inaugural Victoria Gallery exhibition Velvet, Iron, Ashes (24 October 2019–12 July 2020).