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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Ida McAulay

Significant Tasmanian Women icon

(1858-1949)
Suffragist and public speaker

In 1897, Ida joined the Itinerants: a ladies' literary society where each of the twenty members took turns to present papers on current affairs, literary and historical topics. She represented the Itinerants at a combined meeting of three literary groups on women's suffrage in 1899, speaking positively for the vote. However, she noted that she was the only one of her group in favour, and was surprised that 'so intelligent a group of women should … help to block one of the paths to upward mobility of themselves and their sisters'. She also said that '… a woman's sphere is just that which she chooses to make it'. A handwritten paper on suffrage by her, dated 1899, is stored in the Tasmanian Archives.

Ida was elected the first president of the Tasmanian Women's Suffrage Association at their inaugural meeting in 1903. Only a few days after the Association was formed, the newly elected members of state parliament passed suffrage laws as 'it would be incongruous that women should be regarded as capable of voting on the larger issues, yet unfit to vote on those which were only local in effect'. (The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 had given equal voting rights to all white men and women in federal elections).

The association later became the Tasmanian Women's Political Association, a non-party educational and lobbying group interested in laws affecting women and children. Ida remained president until her resignation in 1905 over a resolution to the Prime Minister which she felt compromised the non-party line.

She supported improvements in sex education, family planning and higher education for girls.

References:

Alexander, A., The Public Role of Women in Tasmania, 1803-1914, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Tasmania, 1989

Alexander, C., 'The Itinerants - a Ladies' Literary Society', Tasmanian Historical Research Association. Papers and Proceedings, Vol. 32, No. 4 (December 1985)

Caine, B., Australian Feminism, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1998

Oldfield, A., Woman Suffrage in Australia: a Gift or a Struggle? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992


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