| On this page Women and the Vote
'The world moves slowly, my masters! woman's world especially; but it does move, and that's something to be thankful for.
It took a big step forward on April 24th, 1902,
when the first Australian Parliament enfranchised the women of this great continent; it took another on December 16th, 1903, when, for the first time in the world's history, the women of a nation took part in the making of a National Parliament.'
Vida Goldstein Review of Reviews, Australasian edition, January 1904, pp 47-50
How Far Have We Come in the Last Century?
Vida was the first Australian ever to be invited to the oval room at the White House, DC. She was famous then. But now who has heard of her?
She was in America in 1902 representing Australia at an International Woman Suffrage (the vote) Conference in Washington DC. She also gave evidence in favour of female suffrage before a committee of the United States Congress.
The quotes following are from three documents covering Vida Goldstein’s 1902 visit to Washington DC and shortly after. This was also the time when Australian women, except for most Aboriginal women, won the vote.
They also show Washington DC a century ago, from an Aussie’s viewpoint. Vida came from and worked from Melbourne.
The Australian Woman's Sphere April 10, 1902, published and edited by Vida Goldstein:
'Two letters have been received from Miss Vida Goldstein since our last issue:
“The first meeting of the first International Woman Suffrage Conference took place on the 19th inst., Miss Anthony was elected president, and myself secretary.
Just think of it; it will be the great memory of my life. I shall never forget the moment of my meeting that wonderful woman, Susan Anthony; she is eighty two years of age (Vida was 33), and still fighting with wonderful strength and energy...
“It was simply great to see the vast audiences at the public meetings, and to listen to these splendid American women, and to see the wonderful way in which these meetings were conducted, the whole week’s programme going through without a single hitch; there was not one discordant note struck.
This was in contrast to the meetings of ‘The Daughters of the Revolution,’ a society opposed to woman suffrage, which were being held there. They seemed to be wrangling all day... “
On Tuesday, Congress was sitting in Washington and I made four speeches that day; and one before the Committee of the House of Representatives; and I had to speak twice at the Convention...
“Washington, so far as I have seen it, is really beautiful with its wide tree-planted streets, squares and parks; there are some very fine statues, too; and it is all as clean as Chicago was dirty.
I have had an interview with the Secretary of the Department of Labour; I was to leave here on Sunday, but the Secretary is keen for me to meet Mr. Carroll D. Wright, the great Labour authority here..."
After Vida came home she started a lecture tour.
To America and Back, January-July 1902; A Lecture by Vida Goldstein prepared by Jill Roe, Australian History Museum, Macquarie University 2002:
"I had the privilege of meeting two of the finest men in America, President Roosevelt...
Mr. Roosevelt I saw in his private office in the White House...
I was introduced to him, and he said, gripping my hand in a vice, ‘I am delighted to meet you.’
All Americans say that, and you often feel that is a mere facon de parler, but there is no doubting the cordiality of Mr. Roosevelt’s greeting.
‘And you’re from Australia: I’m delighted to hear that. Do you know I’m very interested in your country, and in New Zealand, which seems to making great progress. Of course, you know I had a number of Australians in my regiment?’
‘Yes’, I replied, ‘and you found them good men and true? ’
General conversation followed about social and political conditions here, and then he said he hoped that some day he might visit Australia.
‘I hope you will’, I said, ‘you may be sure we would give you a warm welcome.
‘I’m sure you would, but you know, in this country, I feel much more at home in the West than I do in the East, and, if ever I visit Australia, I expect to feel more at home on a buck jumper in the bush than in your great cities...'
I was disappointed in not meeting Mrs. Roosevelt, but while I was in Washington, their eldest boy was in the country dangerously ill with typhoid fever, and it was only by great good luck I saw Mr. Roosevelt.
”A visit to America means one sensation the whole time, a sensation of wonder, wonder at Nature, wonder at man.
One can only gaze in wonder at what Nature has done for America in fashioning mighty rivers, heaven-reaching mountains, yawning chasms, endless hospitable plains, rich, fertile valleys, great and grand forests. And then turning from Nature’s handiwork, one stands dumb before the many inventions of man to convert the forces of Nature to his own use.
Nature has done much for America; man has done and is doing more, for the American knows no such word as impossible in facing the difficulties that meet him at every turn.
Let them take what form they will, corrupt politics, million-tentacled Trusts, alien influx, Negro domination (‘of’ not ‘by’) - America will pull through alright...
There are growing signs of a great national awakening in America, a dawning consciousness that a great nation is not built up on merely material prosperity - that a foundation of dollars is a foundation of sand...
Most of us, I believe, regard America as the most democratic and advanced country politically in the world.
It is nothing of the kind. It is conservative as a country can well be. A democratic form of government does not necessarily mean that the people rule. The people of England with a monarchical form of government enjoy more real political freedom than do the people of the great American Republic." State Library of Victoria SLVTF 305.420994G57T
An Open Letter to the Women of the United States
'Women have never argued that women's suffrage would reform the world. They claim that the ballot is a powerful weapon with which to combat social and industrial wrongs.'
When Vida came home she wrote an open letter to the United States:
"My Dear Friends, - Having recently travelled over a considerable portion of your vast country, I think you will be interested in hearing something of my impressions of the woman suffrage movement in the United States, especially as I am now an enfranchised woman, eligible for a seat and for a Cabinet appointment in the Australian National Parliament, rights to which I was not entitled when I attended the International Woman Suffrage Conference in Washington, and addressed audiences the United States.
Australia now leads the way in the suffrage movement, for she is the only country in the world which has endowed its women with national suffrage, but we Australian women do not forget how much we owe our political freedom to the women of America.
While the names of Mary Anstell, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Lydia Becker, Mrs Jameson, Mrs Bodichon, Bessie Rayner Parkes, Millicent Garrett Fawcett and others will always be gratefully remembered by us, we cannot but feel that we are also indebted to the pioneer women of your land, for American women were the first in the world to organise for the purpose of securing absolute educational, social, legal and political equality with men.
The little band of women, headed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who met at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, must for ever be enshrined in the hearts of woman suffragists all the world over, as also will be Little Wyoming, the first State to enfranchise its women - as far back as 1869 - just two years after John Stuart Mill's Suffrage amendment in the House of Commons ...
And because we women in the Land of the Southern Cross are reaping what England and America has sown, we are all the more eager to help our English sisters and American cousins in their struggle for freedom. Our chief care will be to so use our right of suffrage that the men of other nations will soon want to follow the example of the Australian champions of woman's enfranchisement ...
You want, and must have, the support of the rank and file of the working people. And just here is your weakness; you haven't got it. History repeats itself in your country as elsewhere, and every social reform worth having has been won only through getting the support of the workers. It is they who feel the need for reform most, because it is they who suffer most in our present social conditions - it is they only who are prepared to fight for reform.
You want the vote in order that you may help to bring about better social and industrial conditions, but you won't get it without the help of the industrial section of the country. Of this I am convinced. That is how we got it in Australia, and as soon as you make the workers of America realise that the suffrage question is a great economic question, they will join hands with you...
Yours most cordially, Vida Goldstein."
Open Letter to the United States from The Australian Women's Sphere p.218, State Library of Victoria cited in Women Working Together suffrage and onwards www.womenworkingtogether.com.au
Appendix, 1 Papers from the Women's Movement
These women did not just want equality; they wanted equality with equity and the power to act.
The resolutions adopted at the First International Woman Suffrage Conference talk of social, legal and economic injustice as well as inequality. The platform adopted by the Australian Women’s Political Association, again, show concern about issues much broader than just equality.
See Women Working Together suffrage and onwards www.womenworkingtogether.com.au
Appendix 1 Papers from the Women’s Movement
Doesn't this beg the question 'How Far Have We Come in the Last Century?