Distant sisters

Australasian women and the international struggle for the vote, 1880-1914

By James Keating

Distant sisters


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Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-6711-8
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: December 2022
  • BIC Category: Society & social sciences / Gender studies: women, Humanities / Social & cultural history, History, Modern History, Social & cultural history, HISTORY / Australia & New Zealand, HISTORY / Women, Australia
  • Series: Gender in History


In the 1890s Australian and New Zealand women became the first in the world to win the vote. Buoyed by their victories, they promised to lead a global struggle for the expansion of women's electoral rights. Charting the common trajectory of the colonial suffrage campaigns, Distant Sisters uncovers the personal and material networks that transformed feminist organising. Considering intimate and institutional connections, well-connected elites and ordinary women, this book argues developments in Auckland, Sydney, and Adelaide-long considered the peripheries of the feminist world-cannot be separated from its glamourous metropoles. Focusing on Antipodean women, simultaneously insiders and outsiders in the emerging international women's movement, and documenting the failures of their expansive vision alongside its successes, this book reveals a more contingent history of international organising and challenges celebratory accounts of fin-de-siècle global connection.


'Distant Sisters is fresh and necessary, a razor-sharp collection of 'messy stories' that warn against simplistic readings of the past to the suit the imperatives or trends of the present.'
Dr Yves Rees, Sydney Review of Books

'Distant Sisters [is a] meticulous account of Australasian women's international activism in support of women's suffrage between 1880 and 1914'.
Professor Marilyn Lake, Australian Book Review

'Distant Sisters is a seamlessly and beautifully written, as well as rigorously researched, account of the intersecting ambitions, aspirations, endeavours, successes and failures of political women connected by virtue of their place in the Australasian region. It is a masterful recount of the 'messy stories' both underpinning and arising out of Australasian suffrage success.'
Sharon Crozier-De Rosa, Women's History Review

'Meticulously researched . this careful study allows us to see both the excitement of women who wished to be the first to achieve the franchise and the disappointments that followed. Through his thorough engagement with a range of sources Keating has illustrated the importance of cross-border connections'.
Professor Barbara Brookes, History Australia

'James Keating's Distant Sisters is . an important book . It is meticulously researched, elegantly written and skilfully organised, building on international as well as local research and eschewing simple celebratory conclusions about Australasian women's global engagement. Thus, while acknowledging the positive achievements, it emphasises contingency, contradictions and limitations, especially in imagining an Australian identity and forging trans-Tasman cooperation.'
Emeritus Professor Judith Smart, Victorian Historical Journal

'In this welcome new addition to suffrage historiography, Keating . delivers a portrait of the Australasian suffrage campaign that is far from traditional. It moves the reader away from a focus on the mere mechanics of the campaign, or indeed a spotlight on its key figures, to view instead a picture that is more detailed and complex. It helps the reader understand why the history of this movement and its activists has not taken a centre-stage in the global narratives of the women's franchise, while also highlighting the roles of some of the almost unknown or forgotten figures weaving through its history. By using a methodology that privileged spatial concepts we understand why regional issues mattered so greatly and also why 'Indigenous voices were absent from the Australian campaigns'.'
Women's History Review



Mander Jones Award from the Australian Society of Archivists (Best publication that uses features or interprets Australian archives, written or edited by a person in their own right)


Winner of the inaugural Donna Coates Book Prize


Introduction: Leading the empire, leading the world?
1 For God and home and every land: Suffrage internationalism in the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union
2 'My heart...yearn[s] for a genuine voting Australian woman!': Australasian suffragists and the international suffrage movement
3 The business of correspondence: Politics, friendship, and intimacy in suffragists' letters
4 Shaking hands across the seas: The Australasian women's advocacy press
5 Suffragists on tour: Exporting and narrating the female franchise


James Keating is a lecturer and tutor in History at the University of New South Wales

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