Elizabeth Nicholls and the Politics of Suffrage Travel

When:12 Apr 2016, 12:30pm - 1:45pm
Venue:Morven Brown 209 (map ref C20)
Who:James Keating
James Keating

History Seminar Series

'I really don’t know whether you are in Adelaide or Brisbane, Perth or Melbourne’: Mobility and Visibility in the Political Career of Elizabeth Nicholls, 1893–1903


In the last decade, historians have used mobility as an analytical concept to decentre the nation, and capture the complex histories of people, objects, and ideas that crossed borders. Seizing upon mobility as a framework that can render marginalised subjects visible, feminist scholars have charted the trajectories of ‘transnational lives’ to explicate the gendered worlds their subjects inhabited. In this paper, I use the linked concepts of mobility and visibility to examine the neglected history of the South Australian feminist Elizabeth Nicholls’ extensive intercolonial travel between 1893 and 1903.

Elected president of the Australasian Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in 1894, Nicholls spent the next decade touring Australia. She did not speak solely on prohibition and, in the process of ‘deepening the feeling of unity’ among her membership, she lectured on women’s enfranchisement and entertained grander visions of forging a woman-centred Commonwealth. Nicholls made no secret of these ambitions, documenting the minutiae of her journeys in the temperance press. Her writing, I argue, served multiple purposes. As a lone female traveller, Nicholls understood the radical connotations of her transition from Adelaide’s private halls and drawing rooms to the public visibility of the hotel, steamship, and railway carriage. Allies and enemies alike juxtaposed Nicholls’ wanderlust with her husband’s domesticity. As well as pre-empting questions about her respectability, Nicholls’ articulation of the material practices of travel—absent from the published writing of male contemporaries—emphasised her public mobility, staking a claim

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