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1900

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Bessie Rischbieth
Bessie Rischbieth
Courtesy of The West Australian

In 1900 women in Western Australia had the opportunity to exercise their vote at the crucial referendum on federation.  Women in the other colonies (apart from South Australia) did not have the opportunity to vote on this issue because they had not yet gained the franchise.

It wasn't until 1902 that women in New South Wales won the right to vote.  Also in that year, women throughout Australia were given the right to vote in Commonwealth elections on the same terms as men.  Tasmania followed in 1903, and Queensland in 1905.  Finally, in 1908, Victoria stepped into line with the rest of the nation.  Women now had an equal vote with men, but not equality in other areas.

In 1907 the concept of the basic wage was introduced in Australia, with the rate for a woman set at 54% of that for a man. 

Ad clipping for French Corsets 

Inequalities such as this moved Edith Cowan, Bessie Rischbieth and Frances Ruffy Hill to set up the Women's Service Guild in 1909, with the aim of educating women on social, political and economic questions and working toward the establishment of equal rights for men and women.

Meanwhile, Aboriginal women were `protected' by laws that controlled many aspects of their lives - allowing marriage to a white man only by permission, employment only by permit, and denying them custody of their own part-white children.