Investigation 4

Who were some of the women in New South Wales that made important contributions to social and political change in the late 1880s and 1890s?

There were no female parliamentarians in Australia in the 1880s, and the women of New South Wales did not win the right to vote, called suffrage, until 1902. The only women who were able to have a say in referendums on Federation were in South Australia, and non-Indigenous women in Western Australia, who were granted suffrage in the 1890s. However, women of New South Wales did play a significant role in bringing about social and political change in their colony. Many women thought that Federation would help them to gain the right to vote. Some became prominent figures of their time and are still well-known today because of their commitment to democratic values and their work to improve people’s lives and build a better future for their colony.

Your Task

Explore the lives and work of prominent women in New South Wales in the late 1880s, and investigate how they worked to bring about change.


  1. Read the biography of Louisa Lawson. List some of the issues that she was concerned about. What significant actions did she take to make a difference to society? What values and leadership qualities did she display by her decisions and actions?
  2. Research either Rose Scott or Maybanke Anderson (Wolstenholme); two other women who made a difference to society in the late 1880s. List the important facts and achievements of their lives. Were their concerns the same as Louisa Lawson’s? If not, how were they different? What values and leadership qualities did they display through their decisions and actions?
  3. Working in pairs, choose one of the women you both admire. Imagine that you are journalists working in Sydney in the late 1880s. Prepare a series of questions that you would like to ask the woman you have chosen. If necessary, do further research on her life so that you understand her background, challenges and achievements. Combine your questions so that you have a final list of 10.
  4. Decide which of you will play the woman and which will play the journalist. Conduct an interview as a role-play for the rest of the class. Try to imagine how the woman would look, sound and speak. Consider what would make her happy, sad, proud or angry. Ensure that the interview includes opportunities for her to express her hopes for the future of the nation, and her opinion of Federation.