Hey there, history buffs! Today, we’re going to talk about a woman who is an absolute inspiration and an incredible suffrage campaigner. She’s none other than Muriel Matters, who was born here in our inner city township of Bowden on November 12th 1877. You may have noticed her name before, as Muriel Matters Walk sits just between the On The Park apartments and B Apartments buildings.
Muriel was the third child of cabinet maker John Leonard Matters and his wife Emma Alma Matters. Her parents were committed Wesleyan Methodists who believed in the power of education and the creation of a just society. So, it’s no surprise that Muriel became a passionate and inspirational suffrage campaigner.
In 1894, members of the Matters family signed the famed petition to the South Australian Parliament in support of the Bill which granted women the vote in South Australia. As many know, South Australia was the first colony in Australia and only the fourth place in the world where women gained the vote.
Muriel Matters attended lectures by the reformer Catherine Helen Spence and prominent Methodist, Lady Mary Colton, President of the Women’s Suffrage League. Both of them railed eloquently against the electoral and social injustices suffered by women across society.
After studying at the Elder Conservatorium at The University of Adelaide, Muriel arrived in London in 1905 to pursue a career in acting. But, to her dismay, she soon realised that Edwardian England was anything but egalitarian. The opportunities for women in the UK were not as advanced as even those in South Australia at the time. So, she joined the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) and took on the role of political organiser.
Muriel was a real trailblazer and a woman of action. She drove the first ‘Votes for Women’ caravan and campaigned through the southeast countries of England and Wales. But, her most controversial acts were yet to come.
On October 28, 1908, Muriel chained herself to the iron grille in the British House of Commons. She was later arrested on a charge of obstruction and imprisoned in Holloway Gaol. In February 1909, Muriel attempted to shower King Edward VII and the British Houses of Parliament with handbills from an airship above London. This drew worldwide attention and made her a household name.
In 1910, Muriel Matters toured Australia, lecturing on feminism, socialism and universal suffrage. Her tireless work paid off when in 1918, the British Government introduced voting for women, although it was restricted on the basis of age, ownership of property and education.
But, Muriel’s work wasn’t done yet. In the General Election of 1924, she ran as the Labour Candidate for the seat of Hastings. Although she didn’t quite manage to unseat the incumbent, Lord Eustace Percy, she demonstrated that all women had a right and a duty to participate in parliamentary decision-making. This was a significant step forward for women’s rights and participation in politics.
Muriel Matters died in her much-loved Hastings on November 17, 1969, aged 92 years.
Her legacy lives on here in Bowden. On Sunday, 12 February 2017, The Muriel Matters Society opened Muriel Matters Walk in her honour. A number of members were present as the Secretary of The Society, Frances Bedford MP, officially revealed the sign alongside other prominent Members, such as Jane Lomax-Smith and Collette Snowden.
She remains an inspiration to people around the world who are fighting for gender equality and social justice. We hope that her story will inspire you to keep fighting for what you believe in, no matter what obstacles you face.