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The case against universal suffrage

Deep in the Victorian Archives Centre repository in North Melbourne is an enormous 1891 petition of some 30,000 signatures for universal suffrage. Informally known as the Monster Petition, its size makes it our most famous suffrage petition but as Collection Adviser Charlie Farrugia writes, there were cases for and against universal suffrage.

VPRS 3253 Legislative Assembly. Original Papers Tabled in the Assembly 1856-1984,
Unit 851 1891 Petition 254, Women’s Suffrage, 29 September 1891

With all of the attention the Monster petition gets, it is easy to forget that it is only one of many suffrage petitions lodged with Parliament and in our collection.  While none are larger, (the monster petition, tabled in the Legislative Assembly in 1891 contained approximately 30,000 signatures) collectively the petitions below (tabled on 27 and 29 November 1895) contain more signatures.

VPRS 3253/P0 Original Papers Tabled in the Legislative Assembly, units 837 and 838

But not all suffrage petitions were for the cause of universal suffrage. VPRS 2599/P0 Original Papers Tabled in the Legislative Council, units 193 and 194 contain a number of petitions including 14 anti suffrage petitions all tabled on 11 September 1900.

The main anti suffrage petition is in unit 193 and contains 15,671 signatures. The other four anti petitions in this box contain a total of 3514 signatures and the nine petitions in unit 194 contain a further 7293, bringing the total number of signatures up to 26,478.  Two of the smaller anti suffrage petitions from unit 194 are currently on display at the Old Treasury Building.

VPRS 2599/P0 Original Papers Tabled in the Legislative Council, unit 193

Each of the anti-suffrage petitions contains the same preamble:

“ To the Honourable the President and Members of the Legislative Council of Victoria in Parliament Assembled

The petition of the undersigned women, resident in Victoria, humbly sheweth : -

That there is a Bill before your Honourable House to confer the Parliamentary franchise on women.  That your petitioners are convinced that this measure will not be for the good of the State for the following reasons: -

It will be the cause of dissension in families.

Many women have neither the time nor opportunity to inform themselves concerning great public questions without neglecting the training of their children and the comfort of their homes.

Suffrage for women will force them from the peacefulness and quiet of their homes into the arena of politics, and impose a burden upon them in addition to their present duties.

The present feeling in favour of the measure will pass away, but the effect of the measure will remain.”

Now comes, what I think is the key paragraph behind the movement, especially the final 12 words which I’ve placed in italics.  Also, keep in mind that this petition was tabled almost 9 years after the Monster petition.

“The women of Victoria as a body have never yet expressed an opinion upon the subject of women’s suffrage.  We believe that if they had an opportunity of so doing they would be against its adoption.  The movement in favour of it has been promoted by a comparatively small minority of the women in Victoria, backed by a political party which hopes to increase its influence thereby.”

Links

Find women in the collection at Public Record Office Victoria

View the 1891 monster women’s suffrage petition

Contribute what you know about the women who signed the petition

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