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Office for Women

What is suffrage?

Despite what it might sound like, suffrage doesn’t have anything to do with suffering. In fact, suffrage is a term that refers to a person’s ability to participate in society by being able to vote at elections.

Why is voting important?

Being able to vote is a key part of citizenship and allows each person to have their say about what is important to them and what they think their lives should be like. When people vote, they are saying which policies they value, which political party they would like to make decisions on their behalf, and which politician they trust to improve life for themselves and for their community.

What was the situation?

In South Australia before 1894, only men could vote at elections – women were not allowed to. Many people - men and women - thought that it was not right that women were not allowed to vote, so in 1888 they formed a group called the Women’s Suffrage League that had the main aim of convincing the public that women should be allowed to vote. Some of their arguments were that women deserved to be able to vote because:

  • Women were educated and intelligent
  • It was not right that half the people in the community should not be allowed to vote
  • Women paid taxes, so they should be allowed to vote
  • Even men that were “idle, uneducated and unprincipled” were allowed to vote, but women that were educated and socially responsible were not allowed to
  • There was a strong need for better laws protecting and supporting women and families, and women should have a say in electing people that would pass these sorts of laws

But there were also people who did not want women to be able to vote. These people argued that many women did not want to be able to vote, and that they were too busy looking after babies or doing housework and didn’t have time to be interested in politics.

How was suffrage for women won in South Australia?

There were many public lectures and debates held about women’s suffrage, and a huge petition was taken around the state by activists who sought signatures from towns all over South Australia. This petition, which asked people to sign if they supported women having the right to vote, ended up having 11,600 signatures on it! The petition was presented to the Parliament in a massive 400ft scroll of pieces of paper glued together. It must have been quite a sight!

After years of campaigning, the suffragists were successful in achieving their goal when on 18 December 1894, the Adult Suffrage Bill passed in the South Australian Parliament allowing women to vote, and also to be elected as Members of Parliament.

Page last updated : 06 May 2019
Provided by:
Department of Human Services
Last Updated:
02 Mar 2021
Printed on:
02 Oct 2023
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