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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE

Part 1: Suffrage Correspondence of Rose Scott (1847-1925)
from the State Library of New South Wales

"It is no wonder that the women of New South Wales have the vote, since they have Miss Scott to speak for them."
Letter from the National Council Of Women of Victoria, 1905
(Reel 3, frame 100)

Rose Scott (1847-1925) was instrumental in gaining the vote for women in New South Wales and was an important campaigner for suffrage, feminist and gender related issues throughout Australia. She was also a noteworthy international correspondent and her papers feature exchanges with fellow suffragists in Germany, Sweden and America, including some lengthy letters from Carrie Chapman Catt of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance.

This microfilm edition offers all of her letters regarding Womanhood Suffrage, 1877-1920 (ML MSS 38, Section CY 1008-1010), from the vast collection of Scott papers at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. For those interested in world history and comparative women’s studies, it offers an unusual opportunity to explore the experiences of women in different societies as they struggled for similar objectives. The fact that the women of New South Wales gained the vote over 10 years ahead of their sisters in Britain and America raises interesting questions regarding their strategy and tactics.

Rose Scott was born at Glendon, near Singleton, in New South Wales, on 8 October 1847. While her brothers were sent away to boarding school, Rose and Augusta, her sister, were educated by their mother at home. Rose gained some measure of financial independence when her father died in 1879, leaving her an inheritance of A$500 per annum. But she was also given sole responsibility for the care of her mother. Then, tragically, Augusta died in 1880, and Rose adopted her sister’s 2-year-old son and relocated to Sydney.

Despite the substantial responsibilities of caring for her mother and her adopted son, Rose became a prominent social figure in Sydney. She held a regular Friday salon at her home that attracted figures from the worlds of literature, education, government, law, and philanthropy. Her first move towards feminism was prompted by the plight of Katharina in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and she was much influenced by John Stuart Mill’s essay on The Subjugation of Women (1861). As a result she helped to found the Women’s Literary Society in 1889, which brought her into contact with many more writers, journalists and feminists. This network was to prove crucial in her campaign for women’s suffrage in New South Wales.

The papers filmed here start with a cluster of correspondence concerning her foundation of the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales in 1891. It is interesting to see how certain key figures were approached to provide peer support for the League. The careful positioning of the League in the media, and its relationship to socialist groups can also be explored.

Described as 'the Rose without the thorn', Rose Scott used careful diplomacy and persuasive arguments to garner support for the cause. She wrote to prospective candidates of the NSW legislature in order to get them to sign declarations for Women’s Suffrage prior to their election. She brought together diverse pressure groups and organisations to advocate suffrage, and she organised deputations to the Premier of New South Wales. All of this is documented in the correspondence provided here.

Her mother died in 1896, and Rose Scott devoted herself to an increasing range of feminist issues. She helped to found the National Council for Women of New South Wales and played a key role in the enactment of early closing bill for shops and factories in 1899. The Women’s Political Education League made her their first president (1902-1910) and she fought for new laws concerning women’s legal status, the custody of infants, and the age of consent (which was raised to 16). She was also elected President of the Sydney Branch of the Peace Society in 1908 and worked indefatigably to gain women’s access to public offices.

The struggle to gain the vote for women remained paramount. Through the letters in this microfilm collection, scholars can witness the false dawn of 1900, when supportive MP’s telegrammed her eagerly to say 'Debate now proceeding' and 'Bill passed easily' (Reel 2, frames 189-190), only to see the Suffrage Bill rejected by Council on its third reading. After a brief period of depression, Rose Scott redoubled her efforts and won women the right to vote by 1903.

Of particular importance is a detailed correspondence with Vida Goldstein of the United Council for Women’s Suffrage in Melbourne, who was also fighting a battle for suffrage. These two prominent Australian feminists exchange news and views and discuss appropriate tactics. Other correspondents include:

 - Margaret Agg of the Queensland Women’s Electoral League
 - George Bell, US Consul in Sydney
 - Signe Bergman of the Swedish National Women’s Suffrage Alliance
 - Lily Braun-Girzycki of the movement for women’s suffrage in Germany
 
- Carrie Chapman Catt, International Secretary and later President of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance
 - C E Clarke, Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Western Australia
 
- Clara Colby of The Woman’s Tribune, Washington DC
 
- Adela Coit of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance in New York
 -
John Fitzgerald, Member of Parliament, NSW
 - W E Gundry of the Australian Society for Social Ethics
 
- Catherine Hughes, Hon Secretary of the Women’s Equal Franchise Association, Brisbane
 - Emily Leaf, National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in London
 - Sir William Lyne
 - Beatrice McDonald
 - Johanne Monrad, Member of the Danish National Council of Women
 
- Arthur Rae, MP, NSW
 - S A Rosa, Secretary of the Australian Socialist League
 - M S Wolstenholme

When Rose Scott died on 20 April 1925, women in Australia had the right to vote, to stand for public office, and to enjoy a range of educational and career options hitherto denied to them. This microfilm collection will enable scholars to understand how those rights were won, and to compare the struggle for these rights in Australia with similar struggles throughout the rest of the world.



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