The Victorian Suffrage Petition is “approximately 260 metres long and 200mm wide and is made of paper pasted to cotton or linen fabric backing, rolled onto a cardboard spindle which rests on a Perspex stand. It takes three people three hours to unroll the petition from one spool to another – a slow and careful process. The approximate 30,000 signatures vary in quality and colour inks, even pencil” (Parliament Victoria)
It is rightly described as one of Victoria’s archival treasures.
The petition is made up of signatures collected by various suffrage groups and presented to Victorian Parliament in 1894.
I feel like I should have been taught about it in high school.
Sure, I know an awful lot about the industrial revolution, Ned Kelly and the gold rush, but still. Six years they had.
This blog post isn’t about the quality of history education in Victoria, but it is in a small way about the way women’s history is undervalued and how we can utilise digital humanities tools to remedy that.
The petition has been digitised and the names and addresses transcribed. A search portal was developed and remains active on the Parliament Victoria website ( visit here). My contrary nature means I am predisposed against the pathways suggested by the site. I’m not interested in looking up the prominent women who signed the petition. In 1891 my family were on the other side of the world, so there are no ancestors to look up.
I am interested in the women from my neighbourhood. There are still quite a few houses in my and surrounding streets from the time of the petition. It’s quite easy to imagine women answering the door to the team of volunteers who collected the signatures. From here, I just have questions. (Maybe I would be able to answer them better if I’d learnt about this in school? *not that again*).
For example, there are clear gaps in the data. There are whole streets where no signatures were collected. Then there are 20, 30 houses in a row where everyone did. Was there some kind of footpath consensus? Or were the volunteers who did those streets particularly compelling (I’m thinking awesome hats)?
I’m probably not going to be able to answer those questions, but I want to see the data visualised in some way.
So my summer project will be to walk past each address in my area with a signature, map it and see what patterns emerge. I will be using Open Street Map initially (thanks to Lachlan for the recommendation). In the meantime, have a play yourselves and let me know what your questions are.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Women’s Suffrage Petition on Display in Ballarat, 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-29/womens-suffrage-petition-on-show-in-ballarat/5776116.
Public Record Office Victoria, 1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition, 2015, http://wiki.prov.vic.gov.au/index.php/1891_Women’s_Suffrage_Petition.
Parliament of Victoria, Women’s Suffrage Petition, 2015, http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/about/the-history-of-parliament/womens-suffrage-petition.