An Australian Song Cycle

Scored for Mezzo-Soprano and Piano

Words and Music: Lorraine Milne
Copyright © 1996

The lyrics

(Verses are spoken/intoned over the accompaniment)

1. She is inferior, she isn't rational,
Her brain is not the same as any man's.
Our duty is to keep them well and truly in submission,
They think that they can change us with their Women's Rights petition,
And any man supportive of this feminine sedition,
Simply cannot call himself a man.

2. She's too emotional, she's not as strong,
Her mission is the welfare of her spouse.
A woman should be virtuous and modest and contrite,
Shunning all publicity, not joining in this fight,
Giving votes to women - well, it simply isn't right!
Do you really want a woman in the House?.

Bridge: She wouldn't understand the workings of debate,
(sung)Or issues of the colony or how to legislate.
And if we give her equal rights, I'll give it to you straight,
We'll end up with a woman in the House.

3. Manhood suffrage - the natural choice,
For men have got the know-how and the nous.
If we let them vote, then come the next election,
They could enter Parliament through feminine selection,
Imagine women making laws and shouting out "Objection!"

(sung) We cannot have a woman in the House.

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The story

A Woman in the House is indebted to Audrey Oldfield’s book Woman Suffrage in Australia - a gift or a struggle? (Cambridge University Press, 1992). It’s an extraordinary read and gives direct quotes from some of the arguments posed by men as to why women should not be allowed to vote, for example:

"The true woman - virtuous, modest and shunning publicity - would not be interested in voting, She would be content to have as her mission in life the welfare of her husband and children." [Alfred Catt] (1)

As Henry Rooke in an 1896 Tasmanian parliamentary debate put it: "If they once allowed them the vote, the women would next elect themselves." (2)

And one Victorian parliamentarian said: "…I have no doubt that the homes of some of these women who are the advocates of woman suffrage are in a very miserable state… The type of women who frequent this Chamber when the woman suffrage Bill is being discussed is enough to terrify anyone. We have only to look at them - and my word! What a good thing it is that we are not related to any of them!" (3)
(1) South Australia, Parliamentary Debates, 10 September 1888 c. 1065
(2) Mercury, 24 September, 1896
(3) Victoria, Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Assembly, vol. no. 96, 11 December 1900, p. 117