Who is she?
Mary Lee was a South Australian suffragette who led the Social Purity Society (sounds a little daunting, I know), which advocated for protection for young girls from child marriage and prostitution. Her group got the age of consent raised from an alarming 13 to 16 years old. Mary also campaigned for workers’ rights and the vote for women. Along with other groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Mary and her colleagues travelled throughout SA and the NT (it was part of SA back then) to gather 11,600 signatures on a petition 122m long. The Bill granting women the vote was passed in December 1894 – making SA the first legislation in Australia to do so. New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the vote, in 1893.
Why should we thank her?
Mary led the charge for women’s suffrage in Australia (other women did the same, but we’ll get to them a little later) and hers was the first group to be successful. By her 75th birthday, 60,000 Australian women had enrolled to vote. Every time I think about someone NOT showing up to vote, or casting a “donkey” vote at any election, I think about what Mary and her colleagues fought so hard for. We shouldn’t ever forget it.
“Let husbands, brothers, fathers, be kept in mind that it is the duty of every free man to leave his daughters as free as his sons.”