This is the story of three extraordinary women who were central to the women’s suffrage movement in South Australia in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The movement was not just concerned with being granted the vote. It was also about women’s safety and their rights more generally. Poverty, domestic violence and cramped and unsafe working conditions all had an impact on many women.
In 1888, Rosetta ‘Rose’ Birks, her stepdaughter Nellie Fisher and Mary Lee, helped form the Women’s Suffrage League which became a huge force for change and advocacy for women’s and children’s rights. They wrote to newspapers and to politicians, they addressed rallies and collected signatures on a petition to present to Parliament. Despite opposition and meetings becoming increasingly rowdy, even violent, the petition continued to grow. In August 1894 the petition, by then some 400 feet long, was officially tabled in the South Australian Parliament and finally in December 1894, after three unsuccessful attempts, an Act was passed giving South Australian women the right to vote. In 1896, the three women were among the first to cast their votes. With South Australia leading the way, Australia became one of the first countries in the world to grant women the vote.
Mark Wilson’s illustrations are a mixture of line drawings in ink and sepia tones to give the impression of old photographs and watercolour paintings. The painting style is Impressionist and Wilson states that the paintings in the book were ‘inspired by the French and Australian Impressionist painters, Renoir, Monet, McCubbin and Arthur Streeton. The choice was deliberate as ‘these artists were at their peak when our story was set in the late 1880s’. Snippets of letters and the famous petition are collaged into the story and the 19th century clothing depicted throughout is accurate for the period The endpapers are particularly notable. The front endpaper is a line drawing of the cramped working conditions that women endured, and the back endpaper is a painting showing women voting for the first time. The book highlights an important event in Australia’s history.