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The Queensland Centenary of Women's enfranchisement

By John McCulloch - posted Tuesday, 8 February 2005

Tuesday, January 25, 2005 was the centenary day of women in Queensland getting the vote.

Seven failed attempts were made to extend the franchise to women in Queensland between 1890 and 1904 before success was finally achieved by the passing of the Elections Acts Amendment Act on January 25, 1905.

When Queensland became a separate State in 1859 there were stringent conditions before your name could be entered on the voters roll. You had to be a man of 21 years, a natural born or naturalised subject of Her Majesty or legally made a denizen of Queensland, and in possession of a freehold estate to the value of £100 for at least 6 calendar months


Those specifically excluded from voting included:

  • Those of unsound mind.
  • Anyone in receipt of aid from a charitable institution.
  • Those who had been attainted or convicted of treason, felony or other infamous offence unless pardoned or having completed their sentence.
  • Persons in the military service or the police force.
  • Clerks of Petty Sessions.
  • Paid police magistrates.

Thus, instead of suffrage for all males over 21, as was the case in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, the new colony adopted a system designed to favour conservative pastoral interests.

The new colony could be fairly described as Australia’s equivalent of the American Wild West, controlled by wealthy pastoralists. Like the Wild West there were vast lands to be opened up, native inhabitants to oppress, and gold to be found. However in the American Wild West women were already enfranchised.

It wasn’t until 1872 that there was anything like male suffrage in Queensland. The retention of the six months provision disadvantaged many because they were unable to fulfill the residency qualification, or own or lease property. Rich men could make multiple registrations and vote in any electorate in which they held a property. This was known as plural voting.

Although there were two houses of parliament those qualified to vote could only do so for the Legislative Assembly which was elected for five years. Three-year parliaments were introduced in 1890, by which time there were 60 electorates returning 72 members. The members of the Legislative Council were appointed for life. It was abolished in 1922.


The suffragists (or suffragettes) campaigned through their various organisations. They tended to be white, Anglo-Saxon women, based mainly in the towns, especially Brisbane, and by and large from the upper and middle classes. Poorer women, particularly those who worked in the factories and sweat shops, didn’t have time to worry about the vote. They were not organised before 1890 when Emma Miller and May Jordan founded Brisbane’s first women’s trade union to try to improve the appalling conditions which existed for working women.

During the 1880s working women in Brisbane had to cope with typhoid, bad sanitation, inadequate pure water, and poor housing. Girls were denied access to higher education, women workers were restricted to manual tasks, and, of course, female wages were lower. They weren’t even able to own their own property until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1890.

The first women’s suffrage organisation in Australia appears to have been founded in Melbourne by Henrietta Dugdale in 1884. Queensland’s first such organisation, the Queensland Women’s Suffrage League was formed on February 4, 1889. It was, however, short lived and existed for only two years.

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About the Author

John McCulloch AO is the convenor of the Homelessness Taskforce 99. He is a part-time researcher for St Vincent de Paul and a tutor in the School of Management at QUT.

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Centenary of Queensland Women's suffrage
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