Representative Women: Victorian Women Parliamentarians Since 1923 celebrates Victorian women, past and present, who were elected to both the Federal and State Parliaments. White women in Victoria gained the right to vote and stand for Federal Parliament in 1902 but had to wait until 1908 before they could vote in Victorian state elections and until 1923 before they were eligible to stand for the Victorian Parliament. While late compared with their sisters in other states, this was still relatively early compared with women in countries such as the United Kingdom or France.
Once permitted, there were women who were quick to avail themselves of the opportunity to stand for election. In the 1924 elections for the Legislative Assembly, Alicia Katz, standing as the Labor candidate for the seat of Barwon, became the first woman candidate for the assembly, gaining a respectable 30.46% of the vote. Voters, however, were not quick to reward Victorian women who stood for parliament. Nine years after Alicia Katz stood, in 1933, Lady Millie Peacock became the first female Member of the Parliament of Victoria. She was elected at a by-election for the Legislative Assembly seat of Allandale, caused by the death of the sitting member, her husband, Sir Alexander Peacock. The electorate was even slower to send Victorian women to Federal parliament. Doris Blackburn entered parliament as the independent member for Bourke in 1946.
Up until the 1980s women were still rare creatures in both the state and federal parliaments. The resurgent feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s inspired a larger number of women to assume parliamentary responsibilities and the Australian Labor Party put in place an affirmative action program in the 1990s to ensure that numbers of women increased in all parliaments. Women members of parliament are still in the minority, but now they make up twenty-five to thirty per cent of the numbers, which is sufficient to make an impact.
This exhibition has been created to honour Professor Patricia Grimshaw on her retirement from the History Department at the University of Melbourne in April 2006. As a member of the Board of the National Foundation for Australian Women, she has been an energetic supporter of the Australian Women's Archives Project.