Dora Montefiore

From a Victorian to a Modern


My First Work for Suffrage

The important fact that the Electoral Bill which was to be brought before the New South Wales Legislative Assembly early in the session of 1891, included the clause which granted suffrage to women, induced many people to discuss and write on the subject of extending the political franchise to women, and it soon became apparent that a good deal of opposition would be brought to bear on that clause in Sir Henry Parkes’ Bill, which was intended to politically enfranchise women.

A small amount of this opposition was genuine and arose from entire ignorance of the history of the movement and of the bearings of the subject, but the greater part was unreasoning, unthinking opposition; and much on the part of women arose from deplorable apathy. This being the case, it was thought by some residents in Sydney that it might be advisable to get up public meetings and from a Womanhood Suffrage League with the object of educating public opinion on the subject of the enfranchisement of women. With this idea in view a small drawing-room meeting was held at Mrs. Montefiore’s, 77, Darlinghurst Road, on the 24th March, 1891, at which Mrs. Wolstenholme, Dr. and Mrs. Ellis, Miss Scott, Mrs. Ashton, Miss Manning and Miss Windeyer were present, when the subject was discussed and it was decided to write to friends likely to be interested in the cause and form a committee for the purpose of getting up the League and holding meetings. Mrs. Montefiore was requested to undertake temporarily the duties of Hon. Secretary; and the Provisional Committee met for the first time on 4th April, at 77, Darlinghurst Road. On that occasion Mrs. Windeyer, Mrs. Wolstenholme, Mrs. Ashton, Miss Manning, Miss Scott, Mrs. Vandeleur Kelly, Miss Windeyer, Hon. W.H. and Mrs. Sutton, and Mr. Brient were present. Mrs. Sutton and Mr. Brient did not join the Committee and were only present to listen to the discussion.

“The best means of getting up a small preliminary meeting were discussed, and it was decided that before 15th April each member present should send names of those willing to attend to the Hon. Secretary. A special committee should meanwhile secure a suitable room and fix a date for the preliminary meeting, whilst notices should be sent out by the Hon. Secretary to all those whose names had been forwarded to her.

“Mrs. Wolstenholme gave a report of her interview with Mrs. Pottie and read a letter from Miss Ackermann, who had been working in Adelaide in the Woman Suffrage Cause. It was proposed and carried that Mrs. Wolstenholme should interview Miss Ackermann and get from her personally all information that might be useful.

“A letter was read from Mrs. Ashton, who had requested Sir Henry Parkes to take the chair at the public meeting; he declined on the ground that as he was bringing in the Bill, he could not appear publicly in the matter; it would appear like ‘touting’ for his measure .

“It was proposed and carried that the Hon. Secretary should write to Lady Jersey (wife of the Governor), asking her to receive a deputation of three ladies (Mrs. Windeyer, Miss Scott and the Hon. Secretary) to request her, if it lay in her power, to take the chair at our preliminary meeting, or in default of that, to become President of the League about to be formed.”

A SUB-COMMITTEE MEETING

was held at 49, Market Street, on the 18th April, 1891.

Present: Mrs. Windeyer, Miss Scott, Mr. Sutton, Mrs. Ellis, Mrs. Montefiore (Hon. Secretary). The business of the meeting was to settle the date and place of the preliminary meeting, to draw up a form of invitation to those who had sent in their names as being willing to attend and to arrange the three resolutions to be put to the preliminary meeting.

The three following resolutions were drawn up:—

I. That this meeting is in favour of extending the franchise to women.
II. That it is desirable a committee should be formed with the object of convening a public meeting and forming a Woman Suffrage League.
III. That a public meeting should be convened on . at . and . be asked to take the Chair.

It was also decided that a committee meeting should be held at 77, Darlinghurst Road, on Wednesday, 22nd inst.

A COMMITTEE MEETING

was held at 8 o’clock at 77, Darlinghurst Road, 22nd April, 1891.

Present: Mrs. Windeyer in chair, Mrs. Ashton, Mrs. Wolstenholrne, Miss Scott, Mrs. V. Kelly, Miss Manning (Hon. Treasurer), and Mrs. Montefiore (Hon. Secretary).

Minutes: The Hon. Secretary read the minutes of the last meeting, which were confirmed, also those of the special meeting held at 49, Market Street, on 4th April. Also confirmed.

Correspondence: Letters were read from Lady Jersey expressing her inability to take part in the Woman Suffrage Movement, as out here she was debarred from active political work; from Mrs. Sydney Dickinson, saying she would be very pleased when she was here in June to address a meeting on the subject of Woman Suffrage, as she had worked up the question in America; from Mr. Abbott and others saying they would think the question over and read up literature on the subject.

The three resolutions for the preliminary meeting were then read over to the Committee, and after discussion and alteration were accepted in the following form:-

I. To be moved by Professor McCullum and seconded by Mrs. Windeyer that the time has arrived in this Colony when the right to vote for Members of Parliament should be extended to women under the same conditions as those which apply to men.
II. To be moved by Mrs. Pottie, seconded by Mrs. Wolstenholme, that a Woman Suffrage League be now formed to carry out the object of the above resolution and that all those present be invited to become members of it.
III. Moved by Mr. Teece, seconded by Mrs. Lawson, that a Committee consisting of the Chairman, Professor McCullum , Mrs. Wolstenholme, Mrs. Montefiore, Mrs. Windeyer, Miss Windeyer, Miss Scott, Mrs. Ashton, Dr. and Mrs. V. Kelly, Dr. and Mrs. Ellis, Mrs. Pottle, Mrs. Lawson, Mrs. Palmer, Mrs. Kingsbury, Mrs. Beatty, Mrs. Thring, Mr. J.H. Limpson, be appointed with power to add to their number to arrange a public meeting to be held at such time and place as they should deem convenient.

Mrs. Wolstenholme promised to arrange with Professor McCullum and Mrs. Pottie about speaking; Mrs. V. Kelly promised to do the same about Mr. Teece and Mrs. Montefiore about Mrs. Lawson.

The names of those asked to the preliminary meeting were read over and others suggested.

A COMMITTEE MEETING

was held at Quong Tarts on 28th April, 1891, at 8 p.m.

Present: Mrs. Wolstenholme, Mrs. V. Kelly, Dr. Ellis, Mrs. Montefiore (Hon. Secretary). Mrs. Pottie came by invitation to arrange about her speech. Mrs. V. Kelly reported that neither Mr. Teece nor Mr. Cotton could arrange to speak on 6th May.

Mrs. Wolstenholme said that Professor McCullum had promised to speak to the first resolution.

The Committee sanctioned the changing of the day from 29th April to 6th May, as Mr. Sutton found he could not take the chair on the first-named date. It was arranged that Mrs. Montefiore should propose the vote of thanks to the Chairman and Miss Scott seconded. Dr. Ellis arranged to speak to the second resolution.

A PRELIMINARY MEETING

was held in the evening of 6th May, in the Economic Association Rooms, Pitt Street. The Hon. W.H. Sutter in the chair.

The three resolutions were unanimously carried by the meeting.
The Woman Suffrage League was started and many names were sent in, together with many subscriptions.
The subscription to the League was fixed at 1/- annually.

Mrs. Windeyer being at the last minute unable to speak, Professor McCullum proposed the first resolution and Miss Scott seconded Mrs. Wolstenholme, Miss Pottie, Mrs. Lawson, Dr. Ellis and Dr. V. Kelly spoke to several resolutions. Mrs. Montefiore (Hon. Secretary), read the report of the work already done and proposed a vote of thanks to the Chairman, which was seconded by Miss M. Windeyer.

The Women’s Suffrage League of New South Wales was now formed, and it was decided at the next committee meeting held on the evening of 11th May, at 77, Darlinghurst Road, that the League should be known as the “Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales,” for none of us had any intention of accepting any form of fancy franchise, or of allowing large numbers of women above the age of twenty-one to be disfranchised as is the case now in Great Britain, because the Suffrage Leagues here were not true to their principles. Miss Rose Scott was throughout these preliminary meetings and through the long steady fight that followed, the inspirer and wise guide of the Women’s Enfranchisement Movement of New South Wales. She was among the first workers, and she told me during this last visit of mine to Sydney in 1923, that she was the only one of the first workers who remained to the end helping to get the measure passed triumphantly in 1902. She died in 1924, having lived enough years to see some results of her suffrage work. When I saw her last she was a woman saddened by the events of the war and an overwhelming feeling that women were not as keen as she was on anti-militarism. She told me that her attitude during the war had lost her many valued friends and acquaintances, and she exclaimed at some of my remarks about the causes of the Great War, causes inherent in the imperialistic ambitions of two great nations; “Empire, I hate the word, I know the misery that imperialism has always caused.”

Extract from an article by Mrs. Charles Bright on Miss Rose Scott in The Sun, the Society Courier (of Sydney), 30th October, 1896:—

“It is about five years ago that the Woman Suffrage Movement, at the instigation of Mrs. G. Montefiore, was initiated in Sydney, and since then, through evil report and good report, Miss Scott has retained her position of corresponding secretary, and been able to see public interest grow, until now, two-thirds of the Legislative Assembly and a majority of the Upper House are said to be in favour of the extension of the franchise to women.”

In 1892 I returned to Europe and lived with my children for a time in Paris near some Anglo-French relatives, so that my boy and girl should, as I had done, learn French among French people. When I returned to England (in order that my son might go to a preparatory school), I worked for some time with the old Suffrage Society under the Presidency of Mrs. Fawcett, at Victoria Street, Westminster. I was on the Executive Committee, but found it depressing work as the Press would give us no publicity and though we worked hard and conscientiously during twelve months of each year to get the support of Members of Parliament and the public to our hardy annual of a “Bill for the enfranchisement of some women.” we found that when the day came round for the Bill to be introduced, it was either talked out or laughed out and that we had to begin once more another year of work, of begging for subscriptions, of getting up public meetings, unreported by the Press, and of supporting and helping to get elected Members of Parliament who, when elected, appeared less than half-hearted about our cause.

Many of us felt rebellious and realised that as long as we continued to help men into Parliament who did nothing to help us, we were simply wasting our time and our political energies. There were continuous signs that a breaking away of more urgent spirits was imminent. First some of us formed, without leaving the old suffrage organisation, what was known as the “League of Practical Suffragists.” Its members pledged themselves not to work for any Parliamentary candidate who would not promise to work for and vote for any Suffrage Bill that might be brought in. This League was formed during the Boer War when the word “Uitlander,” meaning a disfranchised Englishman or other Foreigner in the Transvaal, was very much to the fore, and I wrote for the League a pamphlet entitled, “Women Uitlanders.” This leaflet published in 1899, concluded with the following paragraph:

“How, then, shall women bring pressure to bear on the men of their own country in order to obtain for themselves equal rights with these men? If nothing but war will meet the situation, then war must be declared by women at all Parliamentary elections by making Woman Suffrage a Test Question. If a candidate will not pledge himself to support the political enfranchisement of women, then women, who really believe in the supreme righteousness of their cause, must refuse to help that candidate when he presents himself for nomination or election. Our weapons are not maxim guns, shedding blood and carrying fire and sword in order to wrest political rights for men Uitlanders. Our single weapon is the power for making suffrage for women a test question as regards women helping at election times, and thus proving that women’s influence in political and social questions is a material factor that must be reckoned with and shall in the end prove as powerful as an appeal to arms.”

But as this closing of the chapter of the work of the Practical Suffragists brings my constitutional fight more or less to a close and begins the militant part of my career, the account of the “Practical Suffragist League” shall end this chapter.


Next: Chapter IV. Militancy