Tag Archives: exhibition

Women’s history, suffragettes near and far

Centenary of the Representation of the People Act

This year is a special year in Women’s history. The 6 February 2018 was the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, the change in the law that gave some women in the United Kingdom (UK) the right to vote for the first time.

The Representation of the People Act gave the vote to women over 30 who owned property or were graduates voting in a university constituency. It also gave the vote to more men — their voting age was lowered to 21 and the property qualification was abolished. Women would get the same voting rights as men, ten years later in 1928 with the passage of the The Equal Franchise Act.

British women’s right to vote came after a bitter struggle between activists and authorities. The suffragette movement ran a radical and militant campaign that included property damage, hunger striking and the death of Emily Davison at the 1913 Epsom Derby. Authorities responded with surveillance, imprisonment and force-feeding. The film Suffragette is worth watching if you want to start understanding the suffragette cause.

If  you are interested in finding out more here are some resources:

Women’s history at the National Library of Australia

In 1902 Australia became the first country in the world to give most women the right to vote and the right to stand for election to a national parliament. Indigenous women and men would not be provided with national voting rights until 1962.

Having secured the right to vote in Australia for most women, Australian female activists used their success to support women in the UK and the United States to get the right to vote. If you want to know more about this a really interesting essay to read is Birth of a Nation? by Clare Wright.

Bessie Rischbieth was one of these women. In London, in 1913, during the height of the suffragette movement, she found their cause deeply inspiring. This would drive her own campaigns for women’s rights in Australia. Bessie also built up a large collection of suffragette items that were bequeathed to the National Library of Australia (NLA). Deeds Not Words is an NLA exhibition based on Bessie’s collection. It opened on the 6 February and ends on the 19 August 2018. I am really looking forward to seeing this.

Muriel Matters

Muriel Matters was an Australian woman who joined the suffragette cause in a big way. Her commitment included in 1908 chaining herself to an iron grille in the ladies’ gallery of the House of Commons, which resulted in a month’s imprisonment in Holloway Prison; and in 1909 flying over London in an airship inscribed ‘Votes for Women’ and scattering handbills over the city.

Here are some resources about Muriel Matters if you want to know more:

If you are interested in the suffragette movement I hope this information helps you do some further exploring. I think there are some really fascinating stories to discover here.


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Muriel Matters in prison dress



Australian history collections of love

During February, the month of love, I have been enjoying looking for Australian history items associated with love. Here are a few that you might like to explore.

Sydney Living Museums have put together a beautiful digital collection Close to the heart, which highlights keepsakes and jewellery from their collection that were given and worn as symbols of love.

The National Museum of Australia holds the largest collection of convict love tokens in the world. This whole collection can be studied via the collection interactive Convict love tokens.

The oldest wedding dress in Australia (1822) is currently on display at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney as part of the exhibition Love Is… Australian Wedding Fashion, running until 20 May 2018. You can also search the museum’s collection to see the wedding dresses they hold.

Melbourne Museum’s exhibition WW1: Love & Sorrow is based on the experiences of eight people who lived through the war. It includes over 300 objects and photographs, which tell stories of love and sorrow. Accompanying the exhibition is an impressive website Love and Sorrow.

Do you know of other Australian history collections of love?

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Australian Airmen and bride in Devon village, 1943






Women of Empire 1914-1918

I often think of Virginia Woolf’s words — for most of history, anonymous was a woman — so I was really pleased to come across the exhibition Women of Empire 1914-1918.

Fiona Baverstock and her husband Keith came up with the idea of the touring exhibition during the 90th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign. At the time there seemed to be little recognition that women were involved in the First World War. Fiona and Keith were determined that this should be addressed for the centenary of the First World War.

The exhibition profiles Australia and New Zealand women whose experience of the First World War was especially eventful and illustrative of the varied roles women played during the war. Each woman is represented by an original outfit of the era from the extensive collection of the Dressing Australia Museum of Costume. These costumes are a simple and powerful way of letting us imagine the lives of these women.

A few of the women featured in Women of Empire 1914-1918 are familiar names in Australian history. Most though are women, who at best are remembered as historical footnotes, but should be better known in Australian history.

To me all these women sounded remarkable but especially interesting were:

Marion Leane Smith: The only known Indigenous Australian nurse to have served in the First World War. A Cabrogal woman born in NSW, she was raised in Canada and served that country and Britain as a war nurse. During World War II she brought the Red Cross to Trinidad.

Ettie Rout: She set up the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood taking them to Egypt in July 1915 where they manned canteens and established a Soldiers’ Club. A safe-sex pioneer Ettie devised a prophylactic kit — eventually adopted by the military — to sell at the New Zealand Soldiers’ Clubs in England in 1917. After the war, she was called the wickedest woman in Britain for her book Safe Marriage, which provided instruction on avoiding venereal disease (VD) and pregnancy.

Dr Elsie Dalyell: In the laboratory at the Scottish Women’s Hospital at Royaumont her pioneering protocols for the treatment of gangrene saved limbs as well as lives. After this, she enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a senior bacteriologist in Malta and Salonika. In Constantinople (now Istanbul), she tackled a severe cholera outbreak. Twice Mentioned in Despatches, Elsie was awarded the OBE in 1919. In World War II, she organized the Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service.

If you want to know more about the women featured in Women of Empire 1914-1918 you can read their profiles here.

GOLD STAR to Fiona Baverstock and her husband Keith for their work to ensure that women of the First World War are not overlooked during the centenary.



Miles Franklin and Vida Goldstein, two of the more well-known Australian women featured in Women of Empire 1914-1918