The 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition
A momentous event for the women of Victoria took place in 1891 and 21 ladies form Diamond Creek contributed to it.
Throughout 1891 a small but dedicated group of women took to the streets of Melbourne and across Victoria, travelling by train and foot, to collect signatures for the petition on women’s suffrage. It sought that ‘Women should Vote on Equal Terms with Men.’ They also hoped to influence liquor laws, enable equal pay for women, a higher age of consent for girls, introduce playgrounds and schools, and afford themselves greater equality around issues of land ownership and divorce. With nearly 30,000 signatures it was tabled in Parliament in September 1891 with the support of then Premier James Munro.
Although the petition was unsuccessful in gaining women the right to vote at that time it greatly influenced changes in the following years. With Federation in 1901 Australian women were the first in the world to be granted both the right to vote and the right to stand for Parliament.
The original petition document is one of our archival treasures and is held at the Public Records Office Victoria. It is a huge document measuring 260 metres long x 200mm wide which earned it the name the ‘Monster Petition.’ Made of paper pasted to cotton or linen fabric backing, rolled onto a cardboard spindle it takes three people three hours to unroll from one spool to another.
The petition has the signatures of 21 women from Diamond Creek who all signed it at the same time. We are not sure when or where they signed but there are no signatures from any other place in the district. Was someone in Diamond Creek part of the movement and collected signatures locally or convinced them to travel to Melbourne to add their signature and support; or were they in ‘town’ for a day out and gave their support then? However the signatures were gathered, we are very proud of the contribution Diamond Creek has made to this interesting and important part of the history of Victoria and Australia.
In 2006, through the combined efforts of the Genealogical Society of Victoria, the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, Public Record Office Victoria and the Parliament of Victoria, the Women’s Suffrage Petition was transcribed and developed into a database. It can be searched at this link – www.parliament.vic.gov.au/about/the-history-of-parliament/womens-suffrage-petition/womens-petition.
Sources: Nillumbik Historical Society Archives, Public Records Office Victoria, Parliament of Victoria – Women’s Suffrage Petition