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May 6, 1891 — Meeting of the Woman’s Suffrage League, Australia


I think the time will come some day when men and women will wonder that they ever found it necessary to form a league to gain for women the right to choose those who make the laws she must obey; when it will be recognized every-where that woman, man’s inferior in some respects, his superior in others, is absolutely his equal in her right, to govern herself; when it will be thought absurd that drunkards, fools and reprobates, should make the laws they live to break, while only women, classed with children and idiots, should be silent.

A woman’s position is full of contradictions. She has power, yes the power of a favoured and devoted slave, held on sufferance only, not legally, and liable to b withdrawn at any time. She has influence, great influence but often only the influence of a petted playmate, which may be rejected at the caprice of the receiver. A woman needs only to be obliged to move a little way out of the narrow path that men have marked out for her, to feel the weight of the fetters with which law and custom have encumbered her. From one of these fetters we are freed. It has remained for the 19th century to give women a position she never occupied before and hitherto her conduct has justified the gift. Moved not by her entreaties, but by a sense of justice, men have offered her an opportunity of showing the quality of her mental power, and placed side by side with men, she has, in spite of the hereditary tendencies, the existence of which we must all admit, shown herself able to compete not unworthily with them. But we do not ask for the suffrage because of our capacity to receive education, though I think that helps the claim.

If every woman would live in a sheltered home, and be fondly loved and nobly protected, the world might never have heard of woman suffrage, though the right would have remained; but if your young girls must go out into the world and fight side by side with men were the struggle is the thickest for daily bread, and it seems they must; if our widows and deserted wives must stand at the head of the family and keep off from the little ones the buffets of a world that is not always kindly, and again I say, with sorrow, it seems they must; if even our married women must help to bear the burden of life and carry sometimes the heavy end of the log, as I assure you they do, then it is more than right, it is expedient, nay, absolutely necessary that woman and the interests of women should be represented in our Legislative Chamber. The good of our children, the good of our country, the good of our sex demand it. It can no more be right or expedient for one half of our population to make laws for the other half than it would be right for the people north of the 34th parallel to legislate for those south of it.

I think I shall have every woman present with me in spirit when I say that we enter upon the formation of this league because we feel it to be our duty, and that we hope to be able to do that duty honorably and without being obliged to lay down one womanly attribute. We are no screaming sisterhood of strongminded women, if such ever existed except in the imagination of writers. They were pioneers, and they did their work as pioneers do, not gently but roughly. Looking back upon them, we feel somewhat as the settler does who looks back from his comfortable cottage and modern implements to the bark gunyah and sharp axe of the man who held the clearing lease.

By-and-by, we also shall be looked upon as pioneers, or nearly so, and our daughters and our granddaughters, who sand in the dawn of the twentieth century — the woman’s century — will say: “These women had not our education, they had few of our advantages, few of our privileges. They only tottered on the narrow path which has merged into the broad road on which we walk so freely.” But we hope [they] will say, if they remember the little band of women who stand here to-night, “They did what they could.”



Source: The Woman’s Suffrage Journal, No. 9, Vol. I, 15 February 1892.


Also: Maybanke: A Woman’s Voice, The Collected Work of Maybanke Selfe-Wolstenholme-Anderson, 1845-1927, ed. Jan Roberts and Beverley Kingston, (Sydney: Ruskin Rowe Press), 2001, pp. 56-58.