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Early feminist Goldstein drew on Christian Science for inspiration

By Kay Stroud - posted Tuesday, 8 March 2016


I wept for Maud Watts' plight. She was the central character in the 2015 film, Suffragette, which depicted the core group of women who fought to obtain the vote in 1912 London. A socio-political environment hostile to women's suffrage led to a tragic set of circumstances where she was forced to give up everything she held dear. Her marriage, her son, her home, her job, her dignity and her health were stripped from her as she devoted herself to lobbying for a woman's basic right to have a say about how things could be done better in her world.

The Commonwealth of Australia had already given women here that right a decade earlier. But progress was slow in the state governments, and it was not until 1926 that women were able to both vote and stand for all Houses of Parliament in all parts of the Commonwealth.

A woman who was at the forefront of the fight for women's suffrage in Australia was Vida Goldstein. Along with other female activists, she saw the possibilities for social change through the advocacy and parliamentary representation which could remove artificial barriers to equal employment opportunities and secure the appointment of women to positions of importance, such as inspectors of asylums, hospitals, schools, factories and prisons. She also strongly believed that the grounds for divorce were unreasonably inequitable, mothers having no right whatsoever to the care and control of their children.

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Despite being unsuccessful in five attempts to enter parliament during those change-resistant times, Goldstein was nevertheless instrumental in many reforms, namely women's suffrage, equal pay for equal work and prison reform. And her efforts arguably laid foundations for our first woman in parliament, Edith Cowan, and for Australia's first female prime minister, Julia Gillard.

Vida Goldstein's contributions as a pioneer suffragist and important figure in Australian social history, and a source of inspiration for many female generations to come, were recognised in 1984 when the federal electorate of Goldstein in Victoria was named in her honour.

Considering the outcome for poor Maud Watts in Suffragette and so many other men and women who have striven for social change, one might ask what fuelled Goldstein's resilience and strength?

A Harvard research centre report found that resilience is born of a positive, adaptive response in the face of significant adversity that is built on strong supportive relationships; a sense of mastery; self-regulation; and an affirming faith or cultural tradition.

Goldstein was known for her lack of confidence in the early days, but later became a delegate for Australia and New Zealand at the International Woman Suffrage Conference in Washington DC in 1902, where she was Secretary to the celebrated Susan B Anthony's presidency. She also formed friendships with President Theodore Roosevelt and Australian author Miles Franklin. (Notes about Vida Goldstein's life sourced from The Suffragist and the Squatter, Norman Hutchinson)

There were supportive relationships, enthusiasm and commitment in Goldstein's experience, but there was also something more that fuelled her ascendance in Australian public life.

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Solid Christianity had been the backbone of her life thus far. Her struggles to bring about a more humane and equitable society during these years found her becoming acquainted with a new way of thinking about God and man that brings mental and spiritual freedom, overcomes entrenched beliefs and adds impulse to the desire to follow in the footsteps of the master Christian, Christ Jesus, and his healing works. Christian Science is based on an acknowledgement of God as both Father and Mother that points to an equality of the sexes, which the Christian Science church has practised since its foundation.

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the discoverer of this Science, Mary Baker Eddy, was provoking, on the world stage, a re-think of the human condition. Her writings not only addressed the many forms of slavery that needed addressing in those times, but our essential slavery to a materialistic world view.

"… as oppressive laws are disputed and mortals are taught their right to freedom, so the claims of the enslaving senses must be denied and superseded. The law of the divine Mind must end human bondage, or mortals will continue unaware of man's inalienable rights and in subjection to hopeless slavery, because some public teachers permit an ignorance of divine power, - an ignorance that is the foundation of continued bondage and of human suffering," she wrote in her foundational text, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

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About the Author

Kay Stroud is the media spokesperson and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Queensland.

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