Maria Kirk

Maria Kirk (1855 – 1928) temperance advocate and social reformer
Maria Kirk organized and presented to parliament a huge Women’s Petition for enfranchisement; and in 1894 was a founding committee-member of the Victorian Women’s Franchise League. During the 1890s she also led the W.C.T.U.’s successful defence of a higher age of consent for girls.

Maria Elizabeth Kirk (1855?-1928), temperance advocate and social reformer, was born probably on 9 December 1855 in London, daughter of Alfred Peter Sutton, salesman’s assistant, and his wife Maria Elizabeth. On 14 September 1878 she married Frank Kirk, an ironmonger’s assistant and later a bootmaker.

Reared in the Quaker faith, Marie Kirk worked as a missionary in London’s slums, and in her late twenties became active in the British Women’s Temperance Association. She represented it in 1886 at a meeting held in Toronto, Canada, to organize the World’s Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Later that year the Kirks migrated to Victoria and settled first at Warragul before moving to Camberwell late in 1888.

In November 1887 Mrs Kirk played a large part in establishing the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria, an offshoot of the American organization founded in 1874 by Frances E. Willard to fight the liquor traffic and promote social and moral reforms. After serving briefly as recording secretary of the new union and president of a short-lived Warragul branch, in February 1888 Kirk became colonial (later general) secretary of the W.C.T.U. of Victoria. She also edited the W.C.T.U. journal, White Ribbon Signal, from its inception in 1892, and later served for many years as president of the union’s Melbourne branch. In May 1891 she became secretary of the newly formed W.C.T.U. of Australasia, and in 1897 represented the Victorian body at temperance conventions in Britain and the United States of America.

In 1902, as a delegate of the W.C.T.U., she helped to establish the National Council of Women of Victoria, and served on its executive committee until 1913. Kirk resigned the secretaryship of the W.C.T.U. of Victoria late in 1913, because of ill health, but remained an active member for some years longer.

In appearance Mrs Kirk was a ‘rather fragile, delicate little woman’, yet her ‘passionate earnestness’, ‘winning manner’ and ‘more than ordinary’ organizing ability made her ‘the heart of the movement’. Her wide-ranging activities included founding new branches of the union, managing its headquarters, raising funds, and running a club for working-girls.

She imbued the White Ribbon Signal with her ardent Christian piety, together with lively feminist views and a keen interest in social reform, preoccupations which reflected the W.C.T.U.’s commitment to ‘Home Protection’.

In 1891 she organized and presented to parliament a huge Women’s Petition for enfranchisement; ( refer note below regarding the image shown above ) , and in 1894 was a founding committee-member of the Victorian Women’s Franchise League. During the 1890s she also led the W.C.T.U.’s successful defence of a higher age of consent for girls.

Her visits among women prisoners made her advocate appointment of female gaol attendants, and her own efforts contributed greatly to the introduction of police matrons in 1909. With both the W.C.T.U. and the N.C.W. Kirk did much to bring into being the Children’s Court Act of 1906. She was also actively interested in free kindergartens for children of inner suburbs; in 1909 she founded the W.C.T.U.’s South Richmond kindergarten, which later bore her name as a memorial to her work.

At her death, Kirk’s W.C.T.U. colleagues paid eloquent tribute to her ‘wisdom, courage, tact and ability’, and her ‘splendid pioneer service’ for temperance and social reform, setting upon her grave the epitaph: ‘Her works do follow her’.

Complete article and further information – Australian Dictionary of Biography :
http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A090607b.htm

Image : Part of ‘Monster’ Petition for Women’s Suffrage 1891
Details : http://prov.vic.gov.au/blog-only/the-case-against-universal-suffrage

Further background to the above petition :
In an extraordinary effort to gain the right to vote for all Victorian women, a handful of dedicated women took to the streets in 1891 to collect signatures for a petition to present to the Parliament of Victoria. The result was an impressive collection of close to 30,000 signatures from women from all walks of life. Tabled in Parliament in September 1891, with the support of then Premier James Munro, the petition sought that ‘Women should Vote on Equal terms with Men’.
http://prov.vic.gov.au/blog-only/the-case-against-universal-suffrage

Page one of the petition including Mrs Maria Kirk’s signature : http://prov.vic.gov.au/blog-only/the-case-against-universal-suffrage
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