Mary Lee (1821 – 1909) suffragist
Recognising that women’s suffrage was essential to their further improved status, inaugurated the South Australian Women’s Suffrage League in July 1888. Through her work in the league, initially as co-secretary and soon as secretary, Mary Lee played a major part in South Australian political history. Mary Lee was a practical Christian with social reformist ideas.
Mary Lee, suffragist, was born on 14 February 1821 in Monaghan, Ireland, daughter of John Walsh. In 1844 she married George(?) Lee, organist and vicar-choral of Armagh Cathedral; they had four sons and three daughters. In 1879 Mary, widowed, sailed with her daughter Evelyn for Adelaide to nurse her sick son John Benjamin; after his death next year they remained, Mary becoming devoted to ‘dear Adelaide’ which she could not in any case afford to leave.
For the rest of her life Mary Lee, ‘once the slip of an old red-hot Tory stem’, worked single mindedly for political and social reform. Her qualities of leadership, conviction and perseverance matched the social and political climate of late nineteenth-century South Australia. Initially interested in Jewish colonization, she later became ladies’ secretary of Rev. J. C. Kirby’s Social Purity Society working for legal changes in women’s sexual and social status. Through the society’s intensive lobbying and its stimulus of public and parliamentary debate, substantial alterations, including raising the age of consent to sixteen, were incorporated in the Criminal Law Consolidation Amendment Act (1885).
Kirby gave Lee the principal credit for this. She and other Purity Society members, recognising that women’s suffrage was essential to their further improved status, inaugurated the South Australian Women’s Suffrage League in July 1888. Through her work in the league, initially as co-secretary and soon as secretary, Mary Lee played a major part in South Australian political history. She saw the suffrage as her ‘crowning task’ and, under (Sir) Edward Stirling’s presidency, steered the campaign skilfully, combining her experience of political processes with her knowledge of women’s social disabilities and of the value of publicity to awaken public interest and understanding.
Unafraid of controversy, determined and sometimes abrasive, she publicized her commitment in the Register: ‘If I die before it is achieved, like Mary Tudor and Calais, “Women’s enfranchisement” shall be found engraved upon my heart’. She regarded manhood suffrage as ‘only half a victory’ and female suffrage as ‘the pivot on which turns the whole question of the moral, social and industrial status of women’.
In frequent speeches, newspaper articles and letters, Mary Lee illustrated her case by using historical, literary and biblical allusions; this did not prevent the ‘abuse’ and ‘obloquy’ of opponents, most of whom argued on traditional grounds against women voting.
Short, plump and erect, she went energetically about the city, suburbs and country, speaking eloquently at league meetings and socials, at Democratic clubs and, despite her dislike of total abstinence, at Woman’s Christian Temperance Union meetings. She planned the league’s wider strategies and also collected shilling subscriptions and organized petitions and deputations. A practical Christian, she had adopted the social reformist ideas of the Primitive Methodist minister Hugh Gilmore.
Complete article : http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A100048b.htm
Refer also : http://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/lee.htm
Mary Lee 1821 – 1909
This website is an electronic version of the book given to secondary schools across Australia in 1994, the centenary of the granting of voting rights for women in South Australia. This decision paved the way for Federal voting rights for women.
The Australian mint released a commemorative five dollar coin in 1994 which features Mary Lee, acknowledging her as a national hero.
Refer : http://museumvictoria.com.au/collections/items/71382/proof-coin-5-dollars-the-enfranchisement-of-women-australia-1994
The following site (and its links) explains why Mary Lee is a hero and why it has taken so long for her part in Australia’s political history to be recognised. http://www.slsa.sa.gov.au/marylee
Influential Australian Christians depicted on Australian notes and coins
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