Investigation 5

Who were some of the Victorian women that made important contributions to social and political change in the late 1800s?

There were no female members of Parliament in the Australian colonies in the 1880s. The women of Victoria did not win the right to vote in State elections until 1908, making Victoria the final Australian State to grant that right to women. At the time of Federation, the only women with the right to vote were those living in South Australia (from 1894) and Western Australia (from 1899). Yet, despite such obstacles, a number of Victorian women played a significant role in bringing social and political change to the colony. Some of these women 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 Victoria.

Your Task

Discover the values, leadership qualities and motivations of four Victorian political leaders in the late 1800s.


  1. As a class, read the biography of Vida Goldstein. List the issues that she was concerned about. What significant actions did she take to enable her to make a difference to society? What values and leadership qualities did she display by her decisions and actions?
  2. In groups, research Annette Bear-Crawford, Margaret McLean and Henrietta (Harriet) Dugdale. These women made a difference to society in Victoria, and eventually the nation as a whole, in the late 1880s. What significant actions did these prominent women take, which enabled them to make a difference to society? What values and leadership qualities did they display by their decisions and actions? Share your research with the class.
  3. Work in pairs. Choose one of the women you both admire. Imagine that you are journalists working in Melbourne 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 subject 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, how she would sound and how she would speak. Think of 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 what her opinion of Federation is.