Effect of Social and Political Factors in the Early 1900s on the Suffragete Movement

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18th May 2020 History Reference this

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Assessment Task 3: Historical Investigation

Question: Evaluate how the social and political factors in the early 1900’s influenced the Suffragette’s movement on attaining women’s voting rights. 


P social/political aspect

E explaining factors

A examples, analysis
L impact, and link




Brief Context (what was it like before hand)

No more than a century ago, the subordination of women were seen in various aspects of society, from the social standards to male-dominated political attitudes. In 1894, beginning in South Australia, to 1908, ending in Victoria, the “Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902” was passed, a result of the growing campaign fighting for women enfranchisement. However, what drove ‘the Cause’ wouldn’t have occurred, if not for the Suffragettes who stood relentlessly for the recognition and liberation of women’s rights. What we know and experience today as the fruits of feminism has originated from fin de siècle Australia, in responses to the complex web of political and social conditions of the time.



Heralding the start of a new century meant the 1900’s was a time of optimism, and in accord to the historian Sheila Rowbotham, who states, “a whirl of speculation, proposals, policies and utopian visions.” One vision prominent throughout society was the democratic idealism of giving the vote to women. But, how did this revolution come about? How had the woman’s condition become shrouded in silence, during the turning of the 20th century, a century of contemporary socialism. What underlies the push towards radical gender equality is a result of the disadvantageous factors within society, which considerably influenced the empowered embodiment of women socialists fighting for equality.


  1. Social Factors – DEMOCRATIC IDEALISM (190words)


The social context of the 1900’s held extensive influence in creating the aims that the Suffragette’s sought for.

Before 1870, property and wages held by women were surrendered to their partners, divorce was not a viable option, and husbands took sole legal guardians of children. Existing in these times were social norms and traditional patriarchal beliefs controlling how a woman should act, and the increasing evident discrepancy between the privileges of being male than female. This is further pictured in male leaders, such as the Premiere of NSW, Sir Henry Parkes, who opposed the first of the three attempts of the ‘Women’s Franchise Bill 1902’, commenting, “the bulk of women are incapable of performing duties of men.” Thus, the agitation for change was galvanised by the generational and gendered attitudes of the time, the cause focused on the solution: the vote. From suffrage societies to organisations such as the Social Purity Society and Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the impact of the social factors of the time can be seen through its influence upon the Suffragette’s aims of convincing the public of importance of the female presence. The leaflet, in the newspaper, The Prohibitionist, ‘Sixteen reasons for supporting women’s suffrage’, circulated around in South Australia, claimed ‘because a Government of the people, by the people, and for the people, should mean all the people and not one half.’ The restrictions of the time demonstrate how its social oppression provoked the Suffragette’s aims, confronting the status quo and societal norms of the time, and through that, achieving the vote.

  1. Political

In tandem to the social situation of the era, the political agenda of the late 19th century, influenced the strategies the Suffragette’s implemented to achieve the legislative and political reform they fought for. During the time, the government system was based upon the election of representatives in parliament – a male dominated colonist field. Women, thereby fought to win the vote not as a means to an end, but a fundamental right, the obligation to become recognised as members with the power to reform society. The Suffragette’s were vocal in various ways, from the mediums of letters, newspapers, to public speeches and rallies. The political gender polarisation of women created mass movement, and leaders of the first women’s suffrage society, Henriette Dugdale and Vida Goldstein, emerged. The petition, also dubbed as the ‘Monster Petition’ reaching 260 metres long, taking three people, three hours to unroll, conveys the considerable impact of the 30,000 people combatting against the political status quo. Thus, the political landscape of the 1900’s largely shaped the Suffragette’s momentum on passing the voting legislation rights for women.

Conclusion (overall significance)


A reflection upon the tumultuous history of the late 20th century showcases the Suffragette’s extensive influence, instigating fundamental social change amidst the gender disparities of the time. To a large extent, the interplay between social and political disadvantages women experienced in the 1900’s catalysed the social reform for giving them the privileged right to vote. As an empowered community, the Suffragettes challenged the societal norms of the time, raising awareness through public opinion, to engender voting equality. It was no ‘gift’ from parliament, but a result of determined activists, led by a group of women, each with an individual persevering spirit and one determined vision. The women’s suffrage was one of the earliest movements towards gender equality in Australia and demonstrates how oppression, socially and politically, altered the fundamental systems of government institutions permanently. 



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