Feminism in Tasmania, along with its counterpart movements in other states, was largely a product of the twentieth century and can be dated from the late stages of the nineteenth century, fuelled largely by the demand for female suffrage. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union in Tasmania took up this cause in earnest by 1893. In 1896 members Jessie Rooke and Georgiana Kermode travelled the state organising a series of public meetings that were addressed by members of parliament and other prominent citizens. Their resolution, 'That the franchise be extended to the women of Tasmania as an act of common Justice', was opposed by few who attended. A further tour undertaken by Rooke in 1898 gathered thousands of signatures in favour of female suffrage. To educate women in the use of the vote once the federal vote was granted in 1902, Rooke inaugurated the Women's Suffrage Association in 1903, just before a bill for female suffrage was passed by the Tasmanian parliament. In 1920 the Women's Non-Party Political League was established, with reformer Edith Waterworth at its fore: one of the post-suffrage organisations that Marilyn Lake described as being 'more consciously concerned to realise the promise of equal citizenship'.

Tasmanian feminists were active in the powerful so-called 'second wave' of feminism. The Hobart Women's Action Group, founded in 1972, which had a counterpart in Launceston, was influential in the early Women's Liberation movement through its hard-hitting newsletter Liberaction. The Group had an uneasy relationship with the more reformist feminists of the Women's Electoral Lobby (1972), into which much of the energy of the women's movement was channelled. As in other states, women's liberation action was taken in the form of the establishment of refuges for women like the Hobart Women's Shelter (1974) and the Annie Kenney Young Women's Refuge. International Women's Year 1975 saw an important development in women's history when Tasmanian feminist and academic Kay Daniels was appointed by Elizabeth Reid, the newly appointed federal Women's Adviser, to direct a National Research Programme for feminist research which produced an annotated guide to historical records about women in Australia. The women's movement contributed to a policy change in government that saw the appointment of Kim Boyer as the first state government Women's Adviser in 1976.

Further reading: A Oldfield, Woman suffrage in Australia, Melbourne, 1992; V Pearce, '“A few viragos on a stump”', THRAPP 32/4, 1985; E Grahame & J Prichard, Australian feminist organisations 1970–1985, Sydney, 1996; B Caine (ed), Australian feminism, Melbourne, 1998; M Lake, Getting equal, Sydney, 1999.

Kate Murphy