Women’s Rights and Human Rights

pp 31-48

Reading the Silences: Suffrage Activists and Race in Nineteenth-Century Settler Societies

  • Patricia Grimshaw


In December 1894 a majority of men in both houses of the legislature of the colony of South Australia passed an Act granting women 21 years and over the right to vote and stand for Parliament. This was without doubt progressive liberal legislation, through which South Australian women became among the first women in the world to enjoy full political rights. Since the 1894 Act had no race bar, Aboriginal women received the vote along with white women, just as Aboriginal men had in effect been enfranchised in 1858 when South Australia brought in universal male suffrage. The vote had done nothing to improve Aboriginal men’s situations, nor the life chances of their families. Aborigines’ problems were multiple; they were by far the most disadvantaged people in the colony though a small group of Chinese, Indian and other non-white immigrants also suffered from white settler racism. The Aborigines, the survivors and children of survivors of the early tragic acts of colonial dispossession, had become increasingly marginalized and impoverished as white settlement flourished.