Vida Goldstein (1869-1946)

Vida Goldstein as lobbyist and protestor to obtain female suffrage

Protest to be effective, must be followed by resolute action and at this crisis in world history when materialistic energy aims at overthrowing spiritual energy and moral values, action needs to develop into a world crusade for the Spiritual Humanity.' Vida Goldstein, 1946

Vida Goldstein, suffragist and the first woman to stand for parliament in Australia, was 80 and still mentally vigorous when she died of cancer in her South Yarra home in 1949.

In her youth Vida had pitched her pretty suffragettes bonnet at parliament five times in all and although she didn't once win a seat, she heightened consciousness of the role of women in society every time she stood. It was in her memory that the new seat of Goldstein was established in Victoria when federal electoral boundaries changed in 1984.

But Vida wasn't only a political aspirant in her lifetime. She had campaigned for equal pay for female teachers and worked for children in courts and for poor and hapless women . She was also a suffragist - and her efforts to gain the vote for women brought international acclaim. When she visited England in 1911 a huge crowd welcomed her. And when she addressed a meeting in Albert Hall, 10,000 people came to listen.

Vida Goldstein as lobbyist and protestor to obtain female suffrage

Vida Jane Mary Goldstein was born in Portland on April 13, 1869 - the same year the first women in the world - the women of Wyoming, USA - gained the vote. Her parents Isabella and Jacob Goldstein were devout Christians and raised their children with strong social consciences. Vida graduated from Presbyterian Ladies College and became a teacher, later opening a preparatory school with her sister in Inkerman Street, St Kilda. In 1892 this school was re-located to 'Ingleton' - the family home in Alma Road, East St Kilda and the sisters prided themselves in their small classes enabling maximum individual tuition.

Acutely aware of the injustice of being unable to vote, Vida soon joined the Prahran Women's Franchise League. Between 1894 and 1900 six suffrage bills and one referendum bill were introduced into the Victorian Legislative Assembly - producing fierce debates but facing inevitable rejection.

In 1900 Vida was appointed general secretary of the United Council for Women's Suffrage and gained valuable political and public speaking experience along the way. Her writing skills were honed in the monthly paper she edited 'The Australian Women's Sphere'.

It was at Vida's Alma Road home that the idea of the 'shilling fund' to support the Queen Victoria Hospital first began. Every woman in Victoria was asked to donate a shilling and in two years much needed extensions to the hospital were completed.

Although women were enfranchised federally in 1902, the Victorian Legislative Assembly rejected the Women's Suffrage Bill for the seventh time in February 1903. Vida was 33 when she stood for a Senate seat in that same year. Polling day on December 16 found Vida standing in the pouring rain to exercise her hard won right to vote. At 8am she was the first woman candidate and the first woman to register a vote at that booth under the Commonwealth Franchise Act.

Perhaps not unexpectedly she lost her tilt at the windmill, but polled an extraordinary 51,497 votes. Women were granted the vote in NSW in 1904 and in Queensland in 1905. But Victorian premier Thomas Bent staunchly opposed suffrage for women in his state. They were not to gain the vote until 1908 - ironic in that Victoria had been the first and most active state in the suffrage movement - and the last to win it.

It was around that time that the colours of lavender, green and purple were adopted for the Women's Political Association banner.

Vida launched another paper, 'The Woman Voter' in 1909. She stood for parliament again in 1910, 1913 and 1914; her fifth and last bid was in 1917 for a senate seat on the principle of international peace. She was still protesting on peace issues when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Vida Goldstein was not lain to rest in St Kilda Cemetery. She was cremated and her ashes scattered, but she is significant for her contribution to St Kilda and to the building of this nation around the time of federation.

There are many other significant women who are buried in St Kilda Cemetery.

  • Janet Mitchell (1896 - 1957) journalist and writer was active in the League of Nations, the ABC and the YWCA. Her sister Mary published more than 23 popular novels. Their older sister Nancy published two books about their distinguished family, including her parents (Edward Mitchell) and great-grandmother Janet Templeton.

  • Janet Templeton (also buried in St Kilda Cemetery) made her impact as a pioneer who chartered a ship to bring her family and their flocks of fine-wool (saxon) sheep to Australia in 1831.

  • Eva Hughes (1856-1940) was a St Kilda resident and founding member of the Australian National Women's League, eventually building it into the largest body of organised women in Australia. A powerful, if conservative political organiser, Hughes campaigned for the liberal cause in 1914, raised funds for the war effort and opposed the candidature of women for parliament.

  • Christina McPherson (1864-1936) has been credited with the melody of the song 'Waltzing Matilda'. In 1895 she reputedly improvised the tune of a Scottish marching song called 'Craigilee' on an autoharp for 'Banjo' Patterson who added his lyrics. In July 2001 Barry Crocker visited MacPherson's grave after performing his play 'Banjo' in Melbourne. According to Crocker, Banjo was infatuated with Christina and his collaboration with her on 'WaltzingMatilda' caused a break-up with his fiancée Sarah Riley.

  • Gertrude Johnson OBE (1894-1973) achieved fame as an opera singer in London and returned to Melbourne to found the National Theatre in Barkley Street, St Kilda. In doing so, 'she threw off the deeply entrenched cultural cringe and laid the foundations for Australian drama, opera, and ballet companies'.

  • Muriel Agnes Heagney (1885-1974), trade unionist and feminist, is not buried at St Kilda, but deserves mention as a local resident. She campaigned for equal pay for women for over half a century and was highly influential in the labour movement. A week before her death at St Kilda, the National Wage Case granted women an adult minimum wage.