Vida Goldstein

Vida Goldstein
Born (1869-04-13)13 April 1869
Portland, Victoria, Australia
Died 15 August 1949(1949-08-15) (aged 80)
South Yarra, Victoria, Australia
Nationality Australian
Education Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne
Occupation Suffragette
Social reformer
Magazine editor
Known for One of the first four Australian women to stand for parliament

Vida Jane Mary Goldstein (13 April 1869  15 August 1949) was an Australian suffragette and social reformer. She was one of four female candidates at the 1903 federal election, the first at which women were eligible to stand.

Goldstein was born in Portland, Victoria. Her family moved to Melbourne when she was young, where she attended Presbyterian Ladies' College. Goldstein followed her mother into the women's suffrage movement and soon became one of its leaders, becoming known both for her public speaking and as an editor of pro-suffrage publications. Despite her efforts, Victoria was the last Australian state to implement equal voting rights, with women not granted the right to vote until 1908.

In 1903, Goldstein unsuccessfully contested the Senate as an independent, winning 16.8 percent of the vote.[lower-alpha 1] She was one of the first four women to stand for federal parliament, along with Selina Anderson, Nellie Martel, and Mary Moore-Bentley. Goldstein ran for parliament a further four times, and despite never winning an election won back her deposit on all but one occasion. She stood on left-wing platforms, and some of her more radical views alienated both the general public and some of her associates in the women's movement.

After women's suffrage was achieved, Goldstein remained prominent as a campaigner for women's rights and various other social reforms. She was an ardent pacifist during World War I, and helped found the Women's Peace Army, an anti-war organisation. Goldstein maintained a lower profile in later life, devoting most of her time to the Christian Science movement. Her death passed largely unnoticed, and it was not until the late 20th century that her contributions were brought to the attention of the general public.

Early life

Vida Jane Mary Goldstein was born in Portland, Victoria, the eldest child of Jacob Goldstein and Isabella (née Hawkins). Her father was an Irish immigrant and officer in the Victorian Garrison Artillery. Jacob, born at Cork, Ireland, on 10 March 1839 of Polish, Jewish and Irish stock, arrived in Victoria in 1858 and settled initially at Portland. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the Victorian Garrison Artillery in 1867 and rose to the rank of colonel. On 3 June 1868 he married Isabella (1849–1916), eldest daughter of Scottish-born squatter Samuel Proudfoot Hawkins.[2] Her mother was a suffragist, a teetotaller and worked for social reform. Both parents were devout Christians with strong social consciences. They had four more children after Vida – three daughters (Lina, Elsie and Aileen) and a son (Selwyn).[3]

After living in Portland and Warrnambool, the Goldsteins moved to Melbourne in 1877. Here Jacob became heavily involved in charitable and social welfare causes, working closely with the Melbourne Charity Organisation Society, the Women's Hospital Committee, the Cheltenham Men's Home and the labour colony at Leongatha.[3] Although an anti-suffragist Jacob Goldstein believed strongly in education and self-reliance. He engaged a private governess to educate his four daughters and Vida was sent to Presbyterian Ladies' College in 1884, matriculating in 1886. When the family income was affected by the depression in Melbourne during the 1890s, Vida and her sisters, Aileen and Elsie, ran a co-educational preparatory school in St Kilda. Opening in 1892, the 'Ingleton' school would run out of the family home on Alma Road for the next six years.[4]

Women's suffrage and involvement in politics

In 1891, Isabella Goldstein recruited the 22-year-old Vida to assist in collecting signatures for a women's suffrage petition. She would stay on the periphery of the women's movement through the 1890s, but her primary interest during this period was with her school and urban social causes – particularly the National Anti-Sweating League and the Criminology Society. This work gave her first-hand experience of women's social and economic disadvantages, which she would come to believe were a product of their political inequality.[5]

Through this work she became friends with Annette Bear-Crawford, with whom she jointly campaigned for social issues including women's franchise and in organising an appeal for the Queen Victoria Hospital for women. After the death of Bear-Crawford in 1899, Goldstein took on a much greater organising and lobbying role for suffrage and became secretary for the United Council for Woman Suffrage. She became a popular public speaker on women's issues, orating before packed halls around Australia and eventually Europe and the United States. In 1902 she travelled to the United States, speaking at the International Women Suffrage Conference (where she was elected secretary), gave evidence in favour of female suffrage before a committee of the United States Congress, and attended the International Council of Women Conference.[3] In 1903, as an Independent with the support of the newly formed Women's Federal Political Association, she was a candidate for the Australian Senate, becoming one of the first women in the British Empire to stand for election to a national parliament (Australian women had won the right to vote in federal elections in 1902). She received 51,497 votes (nearly 5% of the total ballots) but failed to secure a Senate seat. The loss prompted her to concentrate on female education and political organisation, which she did through the Women's Political Association (WPA) and her monthly journal the Australian Women's Sphere, which she described as the "organ of communication amongst the, at one time few, but now many, still scattered, supporters of the cause".[6] 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, a position which lost her votes. She always campaigned on fiercely independent and strongly left-wing platforms which made it difficult for her to attract high support at the ballot.[3] Her campaign secretary in 1913 was Doris Blackburn, later elected to the Australian House of Representatives.[7]

Other activities

Through the 1890s to the 1920s, Goldstein actively supported women's rights and emancipation in a variety of fora, including the National Council of Women, the Victorian Women's Public Servants' Association and the Women Writers' Club. She actively lobbied parliament on issues such as equality of property rights, birth control, equal naturalisation laws, the creation of a system of children's courts and raising the age of marriage consent. Her writings in various periodicals and papers of the time were influential in the social life of Australia during the first twenty years of the 20th century.[8]

In 1909, having closed the Sphere in 1905 to dedicate herself more fully to the campaign for female suffrage in Victoria, she founded a second newspaper – Woman Voter. It became a supporting mouthpiece for her later political campaigns.[9] Of Australian suffragists in this period Goldstein was one of a handful to garner an international reputation. In the UK Adelaide-born Muriel Matters was at the forefront of peaceful public campaigns advocating for women's suffrage, and gained global attention for her part in The Grille Incident, which resulted in the dismantling of the grille which covered the Ladies' Gallery in the House of Commons. In early 1911 Goldstein visited England at the behest of the Women's Social and Political Union. Her speeches around the country drew huge crowds and her tour was touted as 'the biggest thing that has happened in the women movement for sometime in England'.[10]

Eagle House near Bath in Somerset had became an important refuge for British suffragettes who had been released from prison. Mary Blathwayt's parents were the hosts and they planted trees there between April 1909 and July 1911 to commemorate the achievements of suffragettes including Adela's mother and sister, Christabel as well as Annie Kenney, Charlotte Despard, Millicent Fawcett and Lady Lytton.[11] The trees were known as "Annie's Arboreatum" after Annie Kenney.[12][13] There was also a "Pankhurst Pond" within the grounds.[14]

Goldstein was invited to Eagle House whilst she was in England. She planted a holly tree and a plaque would have been made and her photograph was recorded by Colonel Linley Blathwayt.[15]

Her trip in England concluded with the foundation of the Australia and New Zealand Women Voters Association, an organisation dedicated to ensuring that the British Parliament would not undermine suffrage laws in the antipodean colonies.

She was quoted from the period as saying that woman represents "the mercury in the thermometer of the race. Her status shows to what degree it has risen out of barbarism."[16] Australian feminist historian Patricia Grimshaw has noted that Goldstein, like other white women of her day, considered "barbarism" to characterise Australian Aboriginal society and culture; therefore Indigenous women in Australia were not believed to be eligible for citizenship or the vote.[17]

Throughout the First World War Goldstein was an ardent pacifist, became chairman of the Peace Alliance and formed the Women's Peace Army in 1915. She recruited Adela Pankhurst, recently arrived from England as an organiser. In 1919 she accepted an invitation to represent Australian women at a Women's Peace Conference in Zurich. In the ensuing three-year absence abroad her public involvement with Australian feminism gradually ended, with the Women's Political Association dissolving and her publications ceasing print. She continued to campaign for a number of public causes, and continued to believe fervently in the unique and unharnessed contributions of women in society. Her writings in latter decades became decidedly more sympathetic to socialist and labour politics.[18]

Later life

In the last decades of her life her focus turned more intently to her faith and spirituality as a solution to the world's problems. She became increasingly involved with the Christian Science movement – whose Melbourne church she helped found. For the next two decades she would work as a reader, practitioner and healer of the church. Despite many suitors, she never married and she lived in her last years with her two sisters, Aileen (who also never wed) and Elsie (the widow of Henry Hyde Champion). Vida Goldstein died of cancer at her home in South Yarra, Victoria on 15 August 1949, aged 80. She was cremated and her ashes scattered.[3]


Although her death passed largely unnoticed at the time, Goldstein would later come to be recognised as a pioneer suffragist and important figure in Australian social history and a source of inspiration for many female generations to come. Second Wave Feminism led to a revival of interest in Goldstein and the publication of new biographies and journal articles.

In 1984 the Division of Goldstein an electorate in Melbourne was named after her. Seats in her honour have been established in Parliament House Gardens, Melbourne and in Portland, Victoria. The Women's Electoral Lobby in Victoria has named an award after her. 2008 was the centenary of woman suffrage in Victoria and Vida's contribution was remembered.

Vida Goldstein is one of the six Australians whose war experiences are presented in The War That Changed Us, a four-part television documentary series about Australia's involvement in World War I.[19][20]

Vida Goldstein appears as a major character in the Wendy James novel, Out of the Silence, which examined the case of Maggie Heffernan, a young Victorian woman who was convicted of drowning her infant son in Melbourne, in 1900.


  1. Each elector cast four votes (one for each vacancy), with the four most popular candidates being elected. The figure given is the proportion of the electorate who cast one of their votes for Goldstein.[1]


  1. 1903 – SENATE – VICTORIA Archived 3 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine., Psephos.
  2. "Biography - Vida Jane Goldstein - Australian Dictionary of Biography". Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Brownfoot, Janice N Vida Goldstein profile at Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) online edition Archived 20 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine.; retrieved 1 October 2009.
  4. Friends of St. Kilda Cemetery The Suffragette: Biography of Vida Goldstein Archived 28 August 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. Lees, Kirsten (1995) Votes for Women: The Australian Story, St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin, p. 145
  6. Vida Goldstein. (1900) 'By way of Introduction' Australian Women's Sphere, Volume 1, no. 1 (September), p. 2
  7. Anne Heywood. Profile of Doris Blackburn (1889–1970) Archived 16 October 2009 at the Wayback Machine., Australian Women's Register; retrieved 1 October 2009.
  8. Audrey Oldfield. (1992) Woman suffrage in Australia: a gift or a struggle? Cambridge University Press, pp. 145–153
  9. Lees, Kirsten (1995) Votes for Women: The Australian Story St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin, p. 146
  10. Alice Henry (1911) Vida Goldstein Papers, 1902–1919. LTL:V MSS 7865
  11. "Eagle House". Images of England. Archived from the original on 15 October 2012. Retrieved 25 November 2008.
  12. Hammond, Cynthia Imogen (2017). Architects, Angels, Activists and the City of Bath, 1765-1965 ": Engaging with Women's Spatial Interventions in Buildings and Landscape. Routledge. ISBN 9781351576123.
  13. Hannam, June (Winter 2002). "Suffragette Photographs" (PDF). Regional Historian (8). Archived (PDF) from the original on 27 October 2017.
  14. "Book of the Week: A Nest of Suffragettes in Somerset". Woman and her Sphere. Archived from the original on 27 October 2017. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  15. "1911, Blathwayt, Col Linley". Bath in Time, Images of Bath online. Archived from the original on 31 January 2018. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  16. See Patricia Grimshaw, 'A white woman's suffrage', in editor Helen Irving's A Woman's Constitution? Gender and History in the Australian Commonwealth, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1996, p. 90
  17. Grimshaw, p. 179
  18. Brownfoot, Janice N. Profile: Vida Goldstein, Australian Dictionary of Biography online edition Archived 20 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  19. "The War That Changed Us". Internet Movie Database. Archived from the original on 8 September 2014. Retrieved 12 September 2014.
  20. "The War That Changed Us". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 12 September 2014. Retrieved 12 September 2014.


  • Bomford, Janette M. (1993) That Dangerous and Persuasive Woman: Vida Goldstein, Carlton: Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0522845428
  • Henderson, L. M. (1973) The Goldstein Story, Melbourne: Stockland Press. ISBN 095985990X
  • Women's Political Association. (1913) The Life and Work of Miss Vida Goldstein. Melbourne: Australasian Authors' Agency.
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