When I moved to Australia at the start of this year, I knew very little about the history of women’s suffrage here, except that after the country of my birth, New Zealand, my adopted home, South Australia, was the next place in the world to allow women to vote in parliamentary elections. Of all the legislatures extant today, the then Territory of Wyoming was the very first to extend the vote to women, in 1869.
I’ve just started to read about women’s fight for the vote in Australia, beginning with a text that looks as though it was written for secondary school students. I found this extract in it. It’s undated, unfortunately, but the incident which is related in the extract took place in 1889.
One lawyer remarked to me, when explaining the terms of the will: “As your late husband says nothing about the guardianship of the children, they will remain in your care.” I restrained my anger… and replied, “Naturally, my husband would never have though of leaving anyone else as their guardian.” “As there is a difference in your religions,” he continued grimly, “he might very well have left someone of his own religion as their guardian.” “What! my children, the children I bore, left to the guardianship of someone else! The idea would never have entered his mind, and what’s more, I don’t believe he could have done it, for children belong even more to a mother than to a father!” “Not in law,” the men around the table interjected… “In law, the child of the married woman has only one parent, and that is the father” … I could hardly believe my ears when this infamous statement of fact was made, and blazing with anger I replied… “You don’t know how your horrible law is insulting to all womanhood.” From that moment I was a suffragist… and determined to alter the law.
Dora Montefiore, quoted in Audrey Oldfield, Australian Women and the Vote, Cambridge, 1994
Update: To record Wyoming as the first place to extend the vote to women. NZ still claims to be the first country to extend the vote to women.