International Women's Day

by Kate C
Publish date
8 March 2011
Comments (3)

Today is the 100th celebration of International Women's Day. In 1911, rallies in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March turned the movement into an international phenomenon, with over one million protesters calling for women's right to vote and equality in the workplace. Now held each year on 8 March, International Women's Day celebrates women's achievements and encourages everyone to address inequalities between the sexes where they still persist.

It's also Women's History Month in March and the featured theme on Collections Online is the militant suffrage movement in Great Britain, exemplified by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The 'militant' behaviour of WSPU campaigners seems rather restrained compared with the modern-day definition of the term, but in the 1900s, accosting politicians and public demonstrations were decidedly unladylike and they used military language to describe their 'fight'.

The theme is illustrated with a wonderful object - a silver muffineer, or shaker for dispensing spices for the tops of cakes. The muffineer is in the form of a suffragette complete with a sandwich board.

Suffragette muffineer Suffragette muffineer made by Saunders & Shepherd, Silver, 1908 (HT 17185)
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Another Collections Online WSPU object is a medal awarded for valour to Myra Eleanor Sadd Brown, an activist and mother of four who was arrested in 1912 for breaking a window in a government office. Her hunger strike ended when she was force-fed in Holloway Prison. It is estimated that fewer than 100 of these medals were struck. It still has its ribbon with bands of green, white and purple, the offical colours of the women's suffrage movement. (You may see people wearing these colours today - I'm one of them!)

Suffragette medal Suffragette medal awarded to Myra Eleanor Sadd Brown, Great Britain, 1909, for her efforts in the militant Women's Social and Political Union. (NU 36216)
Image: Jennifer McNair
Source: Museum Victoria

Myra was one of around 1000 British women imprisoned for protesting for the right to vote, which finally came in 1918 for England women, 16 years after non-Aboriginal Australian women were allowed to vote in Commonwealth elections. Our neighbours in New Zealand did much better; women could vote from 1893, including Maori women, whereas Australian Aboriginal women were excluded until 1962 when Commonwealth voting rights were extended to Australia's Indigenous population.

How are you marking International Women's Day?


International Women's Day

Australian Women's History Forum

MV News: From Little Things

Comments (3)

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Caroline 8 March, 2011 18:43
What a fun way to celebrate International Women's Day. Gotta love the muffineer.
Jen 15 March, 2011 21:19
If only I'd read this post earlier, I would have celebrated IWD by reclaiming the muffin top as a symbol of suffragette pride.
Erin 16 March, 2011 09:44
Ah! I just saw this post and I had wondered if we were marking the day in any way. I should have looked harder. Thanks for the article Kate! We've certainly come a long way in those 100 years.
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.