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Page 1 A. EARLY DAYS - THE TIMES OF VIDA GOLDSTEIN
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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. Vida Goldstein: The Woman Voter
1. OVERWORK, ECONOMIC DEPRIVATION AND ILL-HEALTH
The early Australian (European) settlers brought with them from the mother country the old common law, and built up for themselves in the different colonies a code of law in its provisions closely resembling English statutory law. In anything that concerned women there was no suggestion of change, let alone progress…
Legally woman was little better than a chattel, and, if a married woman, entirely at the mercy of her husband.
Alice Henry Marching towards Citizenship Centenary Gift Book 1834-1934
Every woman should say so many and no more (children) and when she will have them. Marriage should protect her freedom of choice, not make her a slave.
Brettena Smyth (1842-1898) Marilyn Lake and Farley Kelly Double Time women in Victoria 150 years, Penguin 1985 in http://www.womenworkingtogether.com.au
She (Brettena Smyth) had become convinced that the most pressing inequality found by the great mass of women was not public but private: overwork, economic deprivation and ill-health - all caused by frequent and involuntary child-bearing.
Audrey Oldfield Woman Suffrage in Australia, Cambridge University Press p.137
Yet that didn’t stop them.
2. 1880’s MELBOURNE TAILORESSES STRIKE
It was made clear from the beginning of unionism in Australia that neither women nor Chinese were wanted and they were not eligible, in fact, to become members in the early craft unions. Because of this rejection, women had to form their own unions, separate unions, which they did.
The best known one, of course, is the Tailoresses’ union and their great strike in the 1880s. But the fact that the Tailoresses' formed so early was because the journeymen wouldn't have them. A woman had to be a tradesman or a journeyman to join the union, and of course, she never was.
Interview with Edna Ryan from For Love or Money Megan McMurchy Margot Oliver Jeni Thornley ed Irina Dunn designed by Pam Brewster p.46
A little group of women in tailoring ... stood on the steps of Parliament House in 1880, and wondered how long it would be before they suffered loss of employment when it was found out that they would, through a union, endeavour to bargain for better conditions, if necessary strike for them.
Jean Daley The Trade Union Woman Centenary Gift Book ed Frances Fraser, Nettie Palmer
When I started employers had all their own way; sweating was rampant and I was one of the sweated. Working girls were treated like animals, and every ounce of their vitality was sapped up in long hours at the employer's profit ...
It's a long and painful story. We had no union at first, and three or four of us got together and tried to start one. But opposition came from all quarters. Even some of our own workers scabbed on us, and I was boycotted by employers for being an agitator and communicating with the Trades Hall.
At length, by dint of much persistency, we got together a good meeting. But it was all hard work. We couldn't go around and organise like you can today.
So we got some dodgers printed, and in the darkness of night two of us - the late Mrs Moody and myself - plastered the factories with them. The meeting that resulted was very successful, and was really the starting point of our improvement.
Interview with Mrs Robertson, of the Clothing Trades Gazette May 15 1922 from For Love or Money a pictorial history of women and work in Australia Megan McMurchy, Margot Oliver, Jeni Thornley Penguin 1983 p.47
One thousand women (had) met at Trades Hall and the Union's "catalogue of claims" (the origin of the term log of claims) was successful, the strike prevented clothing manufacturers reducing the wages of already poorly paid workers.
The Union's activities also exposed the shocking working conditions in Victoria's clothing factories and led to a Parliamentary Inquiry into sweated labour. Following the Inquiry, the Victorian Government established Wages Boards to ensure regulation of wages, hours and conditions for all workers.
Victorian Trades Hall website
“Where is our Female Operatives Hall?
In 1883 the Government of the day was approached by a committee of the Trades Hall for a grant of land adjacent to the land on which Trades Hall was built, and which had been occupied by the Victorian Voluntary Engineers as a depot, for the purpose of building a Female Operatives Hall.
This land, 1 rood in extent, was granted in perpetuity for that purpose, and the Committee carried out immediately their purpose and built a small hall...
We know the hall was built, we know that it was there in 1933, rented by three unions who had a proportion of female members, and also that part of the hall was a clubroom which was used by the female staff of the unions who have offices in Trades Hall Council.
We know that in 1975 it is not there...” Vashti's Voice Issue 11
3. AND ALSO …
- In 1880 women in Melbourne came together to form the first “Trades Union of Female Operatives”.
- In 1884 they formed the Victorian Lady Teachers' Association with Clara Weekes at times Secretary and at times President: “When suffrage is granted to women the claims of the female teachers will receive greater consideration”.
Clara Weekes Annual Report from the Victorian Lady Teachers' Association from p.43 Getting Equal Marilyn Lake Allen & Unwin 1999
4. 1885 THE VICTORIAN LADY TEACHERS’ ASSOCIATION
The Victorian Lady Teachers' Association was formed in 1885, one of the first female trade unions in Australia. It used collective action to lobby around specific issues. ”As a sex we are labouring under many and unreasonable handicaps.
Men’s interests are not women’s interests; therefore there is a great need for solidarity amongst women. There are no prizes allowed us in the Education Department, we are excluded from all the higher positions.
As there is no valid reason why this inequality and discrimination should continue to exist, women teachers should demand, with one voice, that they be wiped away.”
Marjorie Theobald, Knowing Women, Cambridge 1996
5. 1895 ANTI SWEATING LEAGUES
The Age 6 May 1893:
The whole of the work was taken home on perambulators and tubs by poor women and girls. The rate paid by him for knicker trousers ... was 4 shillings per dozen, finished. The schedule prices adopted by the Tailoresses' Union and which was for some time observed by city firms was ... 10 shillings and 6 pence per dozen.
The Herald 30 April 1891:
Isabella Goldstein (nee Hawkins, 1840-1916) wrote of ... the slavery endured by the majority of the struggling women to keep their bodies and souls together. By 1895 Anti-Sweating leagues had been formed to stop this exploitation of women and children.
Sue Fabian, Morag Loh Children in Australia an outline history Oxford University Press Melbourne 1980
In 1900 Vida started the Women's Sphere, designed to help the campaign but dealing with such topics as prostitution, equal pay, how women can succeed in business.
The indignation of women who felt they had no say in the laws that governed them is expressed in this little poem published in the Sphere:
Did we seek to be forbidden from all trades that pay? /
Did we claim lower wages for a man's full work day? /
Did we petition for the laws wherein our shame is shown? / That not a woman's child - or her body - is her own?
Joan Curlewis 200 Women in the House State Library of Victoria
6. 1895 “OUR OPPONENTS” BETRAYAL
Mr Frank Madden MP (Assembly 1895):
Woman suffrage would abolish soldiers and war, also racing, hunting, football, cricket and all such manly games. We may depend upon it that a compulsory 8 hours Bill would be at once taken up, and with it a minimum rate of wage made law ... Women suffragists are the worst class of socialists.
The Australian Women's Sphere State Library of Victoria LTM49 13442
7. THE PUBLIC SERVICE ACT BETRAYAL
Through not having women in Parliament energy and valuable time have to be spent on the often Herculean task of educating members up to the point of seeing the injustices in certain measures affecting women, egg the Federal Public Service Act. It bristled with discrepancies in pay for men and women doing exactly the same work.
To get the principle of equal pay embodied in the bill, some of us had to spend days at the House lobbying members - always hateful work - showing them the many injustices in the bill from the women's point of view, and trying to get them to see them as we saw them. We had to tramp around getting petitions signed and write to the press… Vida Goldstein
(Years later Vida told me within a year or so of passing of the Public Service Act the equal pay clause was quietly removed from it with hardly a protest from women - Leslie Henderson)
Life and Work, Leslie Henderson, State Library of Victoria
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