Woman Lee, Mary (1821 - 1909)

Labour Movement Activist and Suffragist
Alternative Names
  • Walsh, Mary (Maiden, 1821 - 1844)

Written by Patricia Grimshaw, The University of Melbourne

Mary Lee was a notable leader in the South Australian suffrage movement and a worker for working women. Mary Lee was born Mary Walsh in Ireland in 1821. She married George Lee in 1844, bore seven children, and in 1879 travelled to Adelaide when her migrant son became ill; it became her permanent home.

Lee's first activism centred on the ladies' committee of the Social Purity Society that fought for improvements in laws relating to child labour, young women's employment and the age of consent. She served as secretary of the Working Women's Trade Union League from its foundation in 1890, and attended meetings of the Trades and Labour Council. Lee also Committee and the Adelaide Sick Poor Fund. She helped form the Women's Suffrage League of South Australia in 1888, serving as secretary and collaborating with the president, Augusta Zadow, a German-born suffragist who was a trained tailoress and similarly linked her pressure for the vote to better conditions for working women. Invigorated by the New Zealand suffrage victory in 1893, Mary Lee, like a number of Woman's Christian Temperance Union activists, travelled all over the colony to obtain signatures for a suffrage petition. With 11,600 signatures, the petition was presented to parliament before the successful Act granting women the vote and right to stand for parliament passed in 1894. A widow, with no surviving children, Lee died in 1909.

Published Resources


  • Mansutti, Elizabeth, Mary Lee, 1821 - 1909: Let Her Name be Honoured, E. Ho in association with Women's Suffrage Centenary History Sub-committee, Kensington, South Australia, 1994. Details

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources