Emma Miller, the Suffragist: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

The Statue of Emma Miller the Suffragist in King George Square, Brisbane, Queensland.

The Statue of Emma Miller the Suffragist in King George Square, Brisbane, Queensland.

I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but I am one of those people who have clusters of coincidences. Just this weekend, I bought a book that explained the differences between a suffragist and a suffragette – though both were working towards the same goal. And now, on the Monday, I came across a statue dedicated to the memory of a Queensland Suffragist: Emma Miller. A week ago, I had no idea what a suffragist even was… I’m guessing I would have thought plaque below the statue was misspelt.


I was (and am) pleased to see this statue in a reasonable prominent position in the town centre, and Miller is in the company of Steele Rudd, the pseudonym of writer Arthur Hoey Davis and Sir Charles Lilley, the fourth premier of Queensland. I had heard of Steele Rudd, but I had no idea who Emma Miller was. As soon as I got home, I started digging.

Emma Miller (26 June 1839 – 22 January 1917) was a pioneer  trade union organiser, suffragist, and key figure in organisations which led to the founding of the Australian Labour Party (now known as the ALP or the Labor Party) in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

The establishment of the Women’s Equal Franchise Association in 1894, almost immediately suffered a split with Leontine Cooper leaving to form the Women’s Suffrage League, alleging that the WEFA was too close to the labour movement which could hinder women’s enfranchisement. Miller remained and was elected President of the Women’s Equal Franchise Association (1894 – 1905), the remaining period of its existence. Despite the differences, Emma Miller, Leontine Cooper and the conservative Women’s Christian Temperance Union often worked together on suffrage issues.

Women were granted the vote for the Queensland parliament on 25 January 1905, although not the right to stand for parliament.

Information gathered from Wikipedia

Emma Miller believed in equal pay for women, legal entitlements for women, the was a strong supporter of the women’s right to vote.  During her term as President of the Woman’s Equal Franchise Association (1894 – 1905) she advocated for the introduction of legislation to grant women the right to vote.

On 2 February 1912, during a demonstration for Brisbane General Strike for the right to organise trade unions, the 73-year-old Emma led a contingent of women on a march to Brisbane’s Parliament House.  A wall of police charged at the women,and they defended themselves with whatever came to hand, such as their umbrellas. While on horseback, Police Commissioner Cahill charged at Emma. She wasn’t any frail old lady to be scared of a man on a horse. In an effort to defend herself, she pricked his horse with her hatpin, causing Cahill to be thrown off.  He later walked with a limp. I’m sorry the horse was stabbed, by the way, but my mum is 73 next year and I imagine she would be terrified if a police was charging at her mounted on a horse.

Quote from Yahoo Answers:

The Suffragists were set up in 1897 by Millicent Fawcett as a union of the different suffrage campaigning groups in Britain. They campaigned peacefully through means such as meetings, debates, leaflets,petitions etc. they also put forwards male candidates in elections as opposition to liberal and tory candidates who opposed women suffrage.

The Suffragettes were founded in 1903 by Emmaline Pankhurst, a suffragist who was frustrated by the suffragists apparent lack of progress. The suffragettes were made up of women who thought the same as Emmaline Pankhurst. They campaigned through more direct action such as harrassing MPs, disrupting meetings, and even burning postboxes and buildings.

As you can see, Emma Miller was probably militant enough to be considered a suffragette, but as she worked through the proper political channels to achieve her goals, and she was interested in gaining rights for male workers, she was more properly considered a Suffragist.

1 Comment

Filed under Historical Personage, History, Personal experience, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Suffragettes, Suffragists

One response to “Emma Miller, the Suffragist: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

  1. I never knew this either. Thanks for enlightening me!

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