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There were several stages in the campaign for women's suffrage in South Australia. Below is a list of the key points in the timeline of suffrage.

22 July 1885

Women's suffrage is first introduced into South Australian Parliament by Dr. Edward Stirling. This resolution moved in favour of enabling widows and single women who owned property to vote, but not married women. The resolution passed but has no legislative power.

16 June 1886Dr Stirling introduces a Bill based on the above resolution. It is unsuccessful.
July 1886The first petition in favour of women's suffrage is tabled in Parliament, delivered by the United Trades and Labor Council. The petition asks for women's right to vote, unencumbered by a property qualification.

6 June 1888

Mary Lee, at a meeting of the Ladies Social Purity Society (of which she was then secretary) puts three resolutions to the meeting:

  1. That the moral, social and industrial interests of women would be advance by women's political enfranchisement.
  2. That, as the ultimate aim of this Society is the moral elevation of women, the Social Purity Society stands pledged to support all efforts likely to assist this aim. Hence it is resolved;
  3. That this committee, in the name of the Society, pledges itself to advance and support the cause of woman suffrage in this colony

These resolutions would give rise to the Women's Suffrage League, officially formed on 20 July 1888.

20 July 1888

Women's Suffrage League officially formed in South Australia. Their constitution reads as follows:

  1. That the women of the country should have a voice in the choice of representatives to the House of Legislature.
  2. That the qualifications entitling women to vote should be the same as those which apply to men.
  3. That while woman's suffrage is desired no claim is put forward for the right to sit as representatives.

Point three is said to have allowed the organisation to focus on the gaining of the vote, and to avoid distraction from this central principle.

12 July 1888, 30 October 1889 and 2 July 1890Robert Caldwell introduces three separate Bills enfranchising women of property. They are unsuccessful.
early 1890Mary Lee's three compelling 'Letters to Women' are published in the Register in March, April and May
June 1891

Catherine Helen Spence joins a deputation led by House of Assembly member Robert Caldwell to the Premier, Thomas Playford, speaking in favour of suffrage. At this meeting Spence asserted that she was 'in her seventh decade and still had no more vote than a child of three years', believing it was 'perfectly absurd to condemn half the human race to silence upon public questions'.

Further deputations to Premiers Holder in 1892 and Downer in 1893 gained in principle support and also importantly, gained press publicity.

14 July 1891John Warren MLC introduces a bill to grant women of property the vote. It is unsuccessful.
1891A petition of 219 signatures is tabled, based on the notion of 'no taxation without representation'. These women believed that seeing as they were taxpayers, they should have a say in those who imposed the taxes. They sought the vote, however if this was not forthcoming they sought exemption from the Taxation Act. Neither change occurred at this time.
6 July 1893J Cockburn introduces a Bill making all women eligible to vote however the bill has a referendum component. It is unsuccessful.
30 April 1894A state-wide petition is begun. These signatures are collected between April and August 1894 and constitute a petition several thousand pages long. During this time Mary Lee travels around the state addressing meetings. 
4 July 1894

John Hannah Gordon MLC introduces a bill based on the Women's Suffrage League constitution, which would grant equal voting rights without any restriction. This Bill is similar to the 1893 bill however does not include a referendum measure.

More than 50 parliamentarians speak on the issues. The gallery is frequently full of ladies, eager to hear the debates and provide a visible presence for local organisations.

Members attempted to undermine the bill by adding various amendments, voting to actually remove the clause preventing women from sitting in Parliament (this was a plot to make the bill less popular).

22 August 1894Gordon's Bill passes its second reading in the Legislative Council.
23 August 1894

A huge petition tied with a yellow ribbon is presented to the House of Assembly consisting of 11,600 signatures. Around a third of the signatures collected are from men. The petition is officially tabled on 30 August.

On the same day, the Adult Suffrage Bill is introduced in the Assembly by John Cockburn.

8 November 1894The second reading of the Bill is moved.
11 December 1894The second reading of the Bill is passed.
17 December 1894Members attempt to made amendments to the third reading of the Bill, which goes late into the night with no resolution.
18 December 1894

At 10:30am the House of Assembly meets and soon passes the Bill with amendments.

The short wording of the Constitution Amendment Act read:

  1. The right to vote for persons to sit in Parliament as members of the Legislative Council, and the right to vote for persons to sit in Parliament as members of the House of Assembly, are hereby extended to women.
  2. Women shall possess and may exercise the rights hereby granted, subject to the same qualifications and in the same manner as men.
  3. All Constitution and Electoral Acts and all other laws are hereby amended, so far as may be necessary to give effect to this Act.
2 February 1895

The Act is assented to by Queen Victoria, giving women in South Australia the right to vote and the right to stand for  Parliament ‘subject to the same qualifications and in the same manner as men’.

20 March 1895The Constitution Amendment Act 1894 is proclaimed on 20 March 1895 and gazetted in the South Australian Government Gazette on 21 March 1895.


Jones, Dr Helen (1994) In Her Own Name: A history of women in South Australia, Adelaide; Wakefield Press.

State Library of South Australia, Women's Suffrage in South Australia Chronology

Page last updated : 30 Jul 2020
Provided by:
Department of Human Services
Last Updated:
02 Mar 2021
Printed on:
02 Oct 2023
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