Friday, August 20, 2010

remembering henrietta dugdale

with the election looming and a somewhat sombre and yet anxious feeling mumbling and grumbling around me everywhere i go, it makes me frightened and sad just how many youths i know who are so apathetic and generally unwilling to put effort in to care at all. but on the other hand there are many who are so passionate and i feel so sorry they can't vote - when they know more than me and are actually out there working for their cause already. i can only imagine the frustration.

but it's made me muse about all those people who have fought for my right to vote and how we must not take it for granted.

i was involved in a project at uni in 2007 where we were to write essays on an aspect, or a figure, of the fight for female suffrage in victoria (which was achieved in 1908) and we published our essays in a rather neat book entitled they are but women: the road to female suffrage in victoria and it was launched by former vic premier joan kirner.

i wrote about this fantastically eccentric woman named henrietta dugdale, who lived from 1826-1918 and campaigned vocally for the cause. she was saucy and clever. she wore trousers that she fashioned herself, was skilled in carpentry and grew her own food. journalists and critics called her unwomanly and a he-woman - the former in an entertaining article in the punch magazine in 1884. she spoke out about women's rights in legislation and was the president of the victorian women's suffrage society.

henrietta also wrote a novel, which you can read at the state library of victoria, called a few hours in a far-off age (it was published in 1883). the novel is narrated by a woman who has time travelled from the (1883) present day to a year far in the future. the woman, whom one would assume was based on henrietta herself, spends a number of hours observing a family examine a museum exhibit specialising in the nineteenth century ‘christian era’, which is otherwise known in the future as ‘the age of blood and malevolence.’ the mother, an extremely wise and self-possessed woman, encourages her teenage son and daughter to question and understand this horrific era in human development but to remember not to judge their ancestors by the standards of modern life. they look at the clothing (so restrictive!) their politics and even their inferior intelligence. i'd really recommend anyone to go and read it.

the other essays in the book cover other quirky female figures such as brettena smythe, who championed birth control and was also part of the suffrage society, bessie harrison lee, who was the more conservative (but no less passionate) leader of the temperance society, a wonderful piece about the everyday women of davis street who signed the 'monster' petition for women's suffrage of 1891. there are essays on the commemorative fountains you see around melbourne and even one on the maligned sir thomas bent, premier of victoria and who reluctantly, but finally, had the women's suffrage bill passed into law in 1908.


  1. You're so right about not taking our voting rights for granted, especially when you consider how so many women are still oppressed and suppessed in many parts of the world today.

  2. Great post Kate - and I will give myself the treat of going to the state library to look at 'a few hours in a far off age' after festivals. (These women were brave and wonderful - we have so much to thank them for.)


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