Mary Lee was a widowed Irish immigrant to Australia. She was 58 years of age when she and her daughter Evelyn arrived in South Australia to take care of her sick son. Her other three sons and two daughters remained in Ireland. Mary’s husband had been a Methodist Minister and she herself had a staunch faith.
When her son died the next year she could not afford to return to Ireland so remained in what she called her ‘dear Adelaide’. Within six years of arrival her tireless work is credited with getting the age of consent lifted to sixteen.
Mary was successful in achieving votes for women in 1894 whilst the Suffrage movement in London took another three decades to catch up (1928). Defeated in 1889 and 1893 the Adult Suffrage Bill was submitted to parliament in South Australia again in 1894. Apparently the bill included the right of women to stand for Parliament because cunning politicians thought that this inclusion would stop the Bill from getting through. They thought that surely the majority of politicians would not want a woman in Parliament. However, Mary and the women of the Women’s Suffrage League presented a petition with an amazing eleven thousand six hundred signatures and the bill was passed unanimously. Mary was now 73 years old.
Not being interested in standing for parliament Mary continued to campaign to get women to register to vote. Within two years she had encouraged 70,000 women to do so. South Australia was the first Legislation worldwide to allow women the vote. Having financed her public work herself she passed away almost penniless in 1909 at the age of 88.
Mary’s work remained unrecorded until 1980 and in 1994 a bust was erected in Adelaide which shares one of her quotes “My aim is to leave the world a better place for women than I found it.”
Why am I telling this story? Because it was news to me and I thought others ought to know. It’s a great reminder of what dedication can achieve. We may not be articulate or ferocious campaigners like Mary but we can all strive to be better at what we do every day. Ecclesiastes 9:10 reads “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”