The Constitution is often described as the birth certificate of the nation and was written for all Australians. However, when the Constitution was written Australia was a very different place, as most Australian women did not have the right to vote. Despite this, the idea of universal suffrage – giving women as well as men the vote – was supported by some of the men who were involved in the 1890s conventions, or meetings, to debate the Constitution.
In 1895, South Australia gave women the right to vote and to stand for parliament. As a result, South Australian women could vote to elect other women to participate in the 1897 constitutional convention. Catherine Helen Spence stood for election to the convention, but was unsuccessful in gaining membership. Although no women took part in any of the constitutional conventions, the records of the debates show that most men who took part thought it was inevitable that universal suffrage would be introduced early in the new federal Parliament. The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 gave all women (with the exception of Aboriginal women in some states) the right to vote and stand for parliament.