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Women’s Suffrage in Australia: A Visual Investigation

Colleen Denney

Colleen Denney, University of Wyoming

Publication Date: 2018
Department: School of Race, Gender, and Social Justice
Location: I will be working at two sites: the State Library of South Australia, Adelaide; and the National Library of Australia, Canberra, ACT.
Team: Examination of the visual propaganda surrounding South Australian women’s suffrage in 1894; other work in Canberra on the visual archive collections of Australian women suffragists and their work to help the battle in England, where women were not enfranchised until 1918 (certain women over 30 who were propertied), 1928 (all women 18 and over)

Research Question
What is the relationship between Australian women activists and that of its mother country in terms of suffrage visual tactics and propaganda? What is the relationship between Australian visual propaganda and that of the other pioneering sites: New Zealand and Wyoming?  How was the campaign in South Australia both indebted to and different from those in New Zealand and Wyoming? What is the visual rhetoric of the Australian movement and how does it resound in the later Edwardian movement where women did not receive the vote until 1918 (for certain propertied women over 30) and 1928 (for all women)?       

No art historians have tackled the visual materials of the Australian suffrage movement; there are important historians who have examined law, history and individual biographies of some of the women activists, such as Hilda Kean, “Public History and Popular Memory: Issues in the Commemoration of the British Militant Suffrage Campaign,” Women’s History Review, vol., 14, nos. 3-4, 2005, pp. 581-602. Others historians explore this most important conversation, particularly in relation to the directives of the Center for Global Studies, on addressing international perspectives: Suffrage and Beyond: International Feminist Perspectives, edited by Caroline Daley and Melanie Nolan, New York University Press, 1994.      

Methods Used
My studies of the global suffrage movement thus far have made me curious about how and why it was possible for the British colonies to obtain suffrage for women in the 1890s, while Great Britain itself remained disenfranchised for decades more. Archivists at the National Library in Australia and the State Library of South Australia assure me that there is a plethora of visual/archival material just recently released for scholarly use in relation to South Australian women’s enfranchisement and those women’s personal records of working with the movement in England once they, as Australians, were enfranchised, such that I must travel to examine their holdings.           

I envision an article and potential book based on this visit that addresses the questions I pose as the research objectives: How do the women’s own visual rhetoric differ from that of the popular press and its inevitable backlash? How does the South Australian visual example mirror and move beyond the visual materials of these other campaigns? What are the common concerns? What are the indigenous issues and how are they accommodated? Who are the markers of respectability?

The research work will allow the continuation to contribute to one of the missions of the Center for Global Studies: “the evolving international challenges” on “human rights, justice and ethics,” as well as attention to “leadership and governance in global policymaking.” In this regard, the work I do will honor the title of the award since I was named the Senator Malcolm Wallop Research Grant for “Conversations on Democracy.” 

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