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The League of Women Voters (so named from 1939), earlier entitled the Women’s Non-Party Political Association, was established in South Australia in 1909 by Lucy Morice, a Fabian Socialist, advised by the Victorian feminist Vida Goldstein. For 70 years, commencing under foundation president Catherine Helen Spence, the league continued the reformist traditions of the nineteenth-century women’s movement. Its main object was the removal of legal, economic and civil inequalities between men and women.

Early Campaigns 

Successful early campaigns led to the appointment of women as police, justices of the peace, school inspectors, and members of several public boards. Aiming to protect the interests of women, children and the home, the league worked steadily through well-managed committees, gained newspaper publicity and became adept at parliamentary deputations. Members actively cooperated with the Australian League of Women Voters and other women’s organisations pursuing diverse social issues. They successfully encouraged women to stand for parliament and municipal councils. However, equal pay was among the league’s goals that remained unattainable.

Achievements

During 20 successive ministries, the league pursued significant issues. After six years’ campaigning the first woman was appointed to the state Advisory Council of [sic] Aborigines in 1927. League member Ellinor Walker painstakingly drew up a bill that became the Guardianship of Infants Act (1940). A world first, this statute gave mothers equal parental rights with fathers. In 1957, following 40 years of league lobbying and three of agitation, the government raised the marriage age from 12 to 16 years for girls, and 14 to 18 years for boys. Roma Mitchell assisted the league’s long campaign that saw women finally admitted to jury duty in 1965. With new women’s associations developing, the league disbanded in 1979.

By Dr Helen Jones

This entry was first published in The Wakefield companion to South Australian history, edited by Wilfrid Prest, Kerrie Round and Carol Fort (Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2001). Edited lightly and references updated. Uploaded 7 August 2015. 

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