University Of Tasmania
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The public role of women in Tasmania, 1803 - 1914

posted on 2023-05-26, 06:55 authored by Alexander, A
This thesis examines the position and activities of Tasmanian women from 1803- 1914 in all areas outside purely domestic concerns. It concludes that most women were employed at some stage; that women contributed significantiy to the economy and so had higher status than domestic activity alone would have achieved. Before the 1880s women took littie part in public life and were involved in few, mainly charitable, organisations, though change did take place, slowly, as girls' education broadened from the 1870s and legal changes improved women's position. Both eventuated because of the British example rather than local demand. Women also followed Britain in attempting to be seen as ladies, though in Tasmania the term implied less delicacy and refinement and more activity and indeed work than Britain. Tasmanian women seemed content with their situation, with their relatively high status and considerable independence within the domestic sphere, and there was littie proto-feminist agitation, as in Britain and America. Rapid change took place in the decade 1885-1895, when outside influences brought overseas feminist ideas and encouraged Tasmanian women to activity. New schools provided academic secondary education for girls, many organisations for women were founded, and in three fields, temperance, public health and the suffrage, women challenged the authorities, sending deputations and petitions demanding change, demanding that their opinions be taken seriously. They did not achieve their stated aims, but did demonstrate that women could act independently in pubUc affairs and organise and speak in public. From this date women's extra-domestic activity increased and by 1914 women could, and thousands did, join women's organisations in many fields and all areas of the state. Women's employment opportunities broadened, though they were often paid less than men; nevertheless, a career became an acceptable alternative to marriage. First-wave feminism in Tasmania, though resulting in much the same benefits as for overseas and interstate women, was less theoretical and more practical. There was no group pressing for women's rights per se, no feminist leader, no women's press, no challenge by working-class women. Middle-class women wanted self-determination and autonomy, in practical matters rather than abstract rights. The two strands of feminism emanating from evangelicals and the enlightenment, though present in Tasmania as elsewhere, did not meet, and no cause united all women as the suffrage did in other places. The reasons for Tasmania's difference were its small size, isolation, lack of feminist leaders, the comfortable status women had enjoyed before the 1880s and the lack of threat to middle-class domination which elsewhere was a stimulus to feminism.


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