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Mary Lee - The life and times of a 'turbulent anarchist' and her battle for women's rights

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Mary Lee - The life and times of a 'turbulent anarchist' and her battle for women's rights

Denise George

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Suffragist and social justice advocate Mary Lee was determined to leave the world a better place than she found it. The feisty 59-year-old widow, of limited means and with few family and friends, settled in Adelaide in 1879 and immediately set to work.

Undaunted by the opposition of antagonistic politicians and a conservative public, Mary thrust herself into high profile campaigns in support of female refuge, improving women’s working conditions and gaining women’s suffrage. In 1894, South Australia became the first place in the world to pass legislation giving women the right to vote and be elected members of parliament, thanks in no small part to Mary Lee’s energy and committed determination.

The disappearance of Mary Lee’s journals and most of her letters, along with a dearth of recorded women’s history, kept her contribution to history hidden for more than 125 years. Undeterred, author Denise George travelled to Ireland and her painstaking examination of local records both there and in Adelaide revealed the compelling story of a woman who took on the Establishment, and won.

’I hope Mrs Lee will forgive me indicating that in my youthful opinion she is a turbulent anarchist.’ – Young South Australian, 1893

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