The feminist movement was international, but took hold in Sydney in the late 19th century with the formation of the Australian Women’s Suffrage Society in 1889 and the Womanhood Suffrage League of NSW in 1891.

Womanhood Suffrage League of NSW, formed in 1891 (State Library of NSW)

The ‘first wave’ of feminism took place between the 1860s and the early 20th century. The Australian Women’s Suffrage Society and other similar organisations campaigned for equality for women in the public sphere.

The ‘Blue stockings’ or ‘suffragists’, as they were known, were primarily concerned with getting women the vote – this was won in NSW in 1902, and at Commonwealth level in 1903 (although not for Aboriginal women, who didn’t get the vote until the late 1960s). Other key concerns were property rights for women, custody rights to children in the case of separation and divorce, and reproductive rights.

WEL with banners opposing Lusher motion to deny Medicare funding for abortions. International Women’s Day. Sydney 1979 (Search Foundation – Tribune, State Library of NSW)

The second wave of feminism emerged in the 1960s, in the context of the political upheavals of the Vietnam War era. Key triggers for change were the introduction of the contraceptive pill which gave women control over reproduction, and the publication of Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch in 1970.

International Women’s Day marches through Sydney’s streets in the 1970s and 80s gave women a space in the public and political sphere. It’s taken several decades, but legacy of these generations of pioneering feminists means that today in the City of Sydney, we have women representing us at every level of government, from Lord Mayor to Prime Minister. Go sisters!