2020 marks the centenary of the momentous – though by no means world-leading – passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, which granted women the right to vote. A raft of public events will mark the occasion – chief among them the unveiling of the first statue of real historic women in New York’s Central Park, a (much) larger-than-life size memorial to women’s rights pioneers.
But what about here in Australia, which was the actual, not anthemic, Land of the Free when it came to the federal franchise?
In 1902, almost two decades before the United States, Australia became the first country in the world where white women won – I’m sorry, they weren’t given the franchise, they won it – full political equality with men: the right to vote and to stand in parliament. As one Columbia University sociologist who travelled to the antipodes to study “the social experiment of Australia” remarked, the world’s newest nation “has worked out a unique and interesting experiment in democracy”.
Australia’s primacy was a curious fact with which political pundits of the time existentially grappled. “The United States should have been the first nation to enfranchise it women,” admitted one US newspaper, “but we failed to live up to our principles.”