Mary Morrison was living in Ballarat, Victoria at the time she signed the 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition. It is one of Victoria’s most important public records and on display at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka from October 2014.
She was born in 1863 in Morrisson’s, a small gold-mining settlement near Ballarat. Her father worked at the diggings at Dolly’s Creek in one of the gold-bearing quartz reefs there, and suffered from what was known as “miner’s complaint”, or pulmonary fibrosis, from which he eventually died.
Mary ‘In Service’ at 12
As he was unable to work for many years, Mary had to leave school at the age of 12 to work “in service” to help her younger siblings. However, she read widely and her considerable drive and energy led her to become a local leader in the temperance movement, an activity that continued after her marriage to Duncan McPhee, which took place in the same year that she signed the Petition – 1891.
Passionate About Abstinence
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was established in 1889, and Mary became an active member in Ballarat. Members of the Union not only supported total abstinence from alcohol but also feminist objectives.
“From childhood until death she was always busy, and never an idle moment could I detect. She was puritanical in outlook and was active as a church worker from childhood. She had a fairly simple faith, was very kindly, always helping people worse off than herself.” Mary’s son, Stuart McPhee.
Champion for the Monster Petition
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union were one of the chief organising bodies for the massive Women’s Petition, arguing for votes for women on the grounds of social justice. They continued to put pressure on the government for women’s suffrage in Victoria until it finally came to pass in 1908.
After she died in 1932, Mary’s son Stuart, one of her five children, wrote: “From childhood until death she was always busy, and never an idle moment could I detect. She was puritanical in outlook and was active as a church worker from childhood. She had a fairly simple faith, was very kindly, always helping people worse off than herself, had many friends, was intelligent, but without much learning except through reading and self-improvement, was extremely industrious and was very capable, naturally taking the lead when required. She took life very seriously but was a devoted mother.”
Image and text courtesy of Jan Harper, grand-daughter of Mary Morrison.
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