On Tuesday a group of Ballarat women met to celebrate a centenary of women obtaining the right to vote in Victoria. The venue was decorated in colours of green, white and violet. Today these colours are taken to mean Give (green) Women (white) the Vote (violet). Historically “The Colours” originated from the militant British suffrage movement the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst was the founder of this movement and the unusual combination of colours green (hope), violet (dignity) and white (purity) she invoked were stroke of marketing genius. Used in campaigns everywhere they unified the suffrage movement world wide.

Australian suffragist Vida Goldstein incorporated similar colours for the Women’s Political Association (WPA) and used them for her Senate campaign in 1910. Lavender she described as being for fragrance and all that is good in the past, green for growth, unfolding and development, purple for the royalty of justice and the equal sovereignty of men and women. White stood for purity. 

Feminist writers also alluded to the colours. Virginia Woolf refers to Miss Hudson’s purple buttons in her essay Memories of a Working Women’s Guild. Jane Goldman believes that Woolf made specific reference to the ‘pictorial language of suffrage colours’. Woolf, in her description of the typist Miss Kidd, depicted her in ‘a peculiar shade of deep purple’ which ‘seemed somehow symbolical’, an obvious reference to the suffrage colours.

The colours emphasized the femininity of the women who fought for the vote, who were being caste in the press and by the government as hysterical harridans, unwomanly and unattractive. It was argued that the vote for women would result in the desecration of motherhood, destruction of family life, immorality and biological weakness. 

The suffrage movement counteracted these claims by depicting attractive young women on badges and at the forefront of the suffrage campaign. Some suffrage badges clearly show this clever marketing ploy. Eloquent women gave orations on all types of public and political issues. They wrote articles in newspapers and signed petitions which were presented to parliament.

The Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society was formed by Henrietta Dugdale and Annette Bear on 22 June 1884 in Victoria Australia. The aims of the society were to obtain the same privileges for women, as those enjoyed by men who could vote. In 1891 a Women’s Suffrage Petition, signed by more than 30,000 women and men was presented to parliament. The petition stated ‘that government of the People, by the People and for the People should mean all the People, not half’. The petition was added to the Victorian Heritage Register in August 2007 and nominated for a UNESCO Australian Section of Memory of the World. 

Victorian women won the right to vote a century ago on 18 November 1908.

Suffrage Badge, unknown woman