|Women's opinions were rarely sought on political issues, and their voices seldom heard outside the accepted avenues of social conversation.|
Walter James, the Member for East Perth, made several attempts to persuade Parliament to give women the vote. But the idea was not well received. The Premier, Sir John Forrest, was not convinced that women were really interested in voting.
|Western Mail, 19 May, 1899|
Courtesy of The West Australian
One of the other members went so far as to say that `ladies, like cats, were best at home'.
Opposition was not confined to political conservatives. There was also concern that women's suffrage would greatly increase the voting power of Perth and established country centres relative to that of the more radical Goldfields, where there were very few women.
But the resolve of WA's pioneering women was undeterred. From 1896 the WCTU campaigned for the vote with increasing vigour, writing to newspapers and holding public meetings in Perth, Bunbury, Northam and York.
In July 1898 The West Australian came out in favour of women's suffrage.
Then in 1899 the WCTU joined with other women's groups, including the Karrakatta Club, to form the Woman's Franchise League. Another petition was circulated and presented to Parliament on 26 July 1899. The pressure mounted.
|High Street Fremantle|
Courtesy of the Battye Library
At last, in August 1899, both Houses of Parliament passed a motion in favour of women's suffrage.
The Constitution Acts Amendment Act was passed on 16 December 1899 and proclaimed on 18 May 1900, giving women the same voting rights as men. This didn't mean that all women over the voting age of 21 were entitled to vote: Aboriginal Australians, Africans and Asians (male and female) were all excluded unless they were substantial landowners.
Western Australian women were among the first in the world to secure the right to vote. Only New Zealand, South Australia and a few States in America had taken this bold step sooner