Reflections on Woman Suffrage and Deputation to the PremierIt may be safely said that the recent deputation to the Premier marked the beginning of a new era for the Woman’s Suffrage movement in Victoria; an era whose dawn is more radiant with the light of hope, to shine brighter and brighter into the perfect day of realisation. The two hundred men and women who formed the deputation ranked high in intelligence and higher still in moral worth and enthusiasm for the welfare of the State; and their presence proved that the principle of equal voting rights for the two sexes is not is not the fad of a few, but the vital concern of many. The Victorian Alliance introduced Woman’s Suffrage to the arena of practical politics upon the occasion of the general election by making it a plank in its platform. A little band of ladies who were not identified with the Temperance party did labour in the supposed interests of Woman’s Suffrage in one Melbourne constituency; but, unfortunately, they canvassed for gentlemen whose subsequent interest in the Kew Lunatic Asylum has been regarded as personal prudence in making the interests for the future. Happily the interests of the movement are now entrusted the right women, and we may frankly add that these are led by the right men. Nobody dreams that the great reform which is desired can be achieved during the next session of Parliament, even with a Premier personally in favour of it; but that it is coming may be one of the certainties of this uncertain world. The newspaper comments, and the subsequent discussion in the Press, provoked and inspired by the deputation, emphasise the statement that the demand for equal political powers for the sexes cannot be logically denied. Even the paper whose hundred-fold vision does not enable it to discern the signs of the times endeavours to meet the case with elephantine humour, obviously for lack of argument. The fact is that all sound reasons why men should vote apply equally to women. Custom has denied the right, and now prejudice sustains custom; but custom and prejudice have had to give way upon several occasions in the world’s progress, and they will have to do so again.
Do men claim a monopoly of voting power because of physical strength? In view of the modern order of the 8-hours husband and the 16-hours wife might doubt the superior strength of manhood; unless it be that woman, being the weaker vessel, is mercifully allowed a longer time in which to do her work. In New York there are said to be, according to the census returns, 27,000 women who keep their husbands and families. Which of these couples has the superior claim to the franchise? If physical strength be the test the prize-fighter, who is the lowest form of mankind, is certainly entitled to a plurality of votes. Some men we believe – particularly the editor of the Argus- lay claim to superior intelligence. It is true that the majority of men have had better educational advantages than women; but now it is being clearly proved that that with equal advantages women can achieve at least equal success. They may not distinguish them selves as the gentlemen, or rather male, students do at the University commencement, but they come out with honours at the end. This is the case in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, and it is pre-eminently the case at home. Let Philippa Fawcett, with her four-hundred marks above the Senior Wrangler at Cambridge, bear witness to the fact. We are told the home is the woman’s sphere. So it is. The countinghouse, the mart, or the workshop is man’s sphere, but he would be a very small-souled man who had no thoughts apart from it. The home is woman’s chief concern, and the home needs the protection of the law. What is good for the home is good for the state, and woman voting for the home would be serving the serving the highest interests of the community. The liquor trade is the loudest in the cry that the home is woman’s sphere. Yet it employs many of our fairest women in the polluted atmosphere of its bars, which is surely not home for them. And it expects other women to be silent while being robbed of husband or son by the allurements which it holds forth. The demand for Women’s Suffrage comes from the recognition of natural right, but it vibrates with earnestness because of the conviction that the home needs the protection of woman’s vote. In replying to the deputation the Premier pointed out that there are difficulties in the way of granting its demand. The real difficulty, however, is hardly of the nature of the nature of those indicated by Mr Munro. It is that the country has not been educated upon the question. To remove difficulties is the business of the reformer always, and this obstacle must be immediately attacked by the combined forces of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Alliance. When the country demands the reform the legislature will very quickly respond.
The Alliance Record May 16th, 1891 page 114