Matters dropped leaflets over London from an airship emblazoned ‘Votes for Women’. Photograph: still from docudrama Muriel Mattters.
by Amy Fallon
She has not been much celebrated in her homeland but Muriel Matters – an Australian-born suffragist who achieved notoriety in Britain after pulling off a series of brave and quirky stunts there in the early 1900s – is finally getting the recognition she deserves.
Matters, an actor who left Adelaide for Britain when she was 28 to further her musical career, once sailed over London in an airship emblazoned with “Votes For Women”, dropping leaflets for the militant Women’s Freedom League (WFL).
She was also charged with disorderly conduct and imprisoned after chaining herself to “that vile grille” in the Ladies’ Gallery of the British House of Commons in 1908.
Obscuring women’s view of parliamentary debates, the piece of ironwork was considered a sign of female oppression.
Frances Bedford MP. from The Muriel Matters Society thinks that part of the problem is that Matters didn’t do much for the franchise in her birth country – not least because women in Australia got the vote earlier than women in Britain.
The suffragist, who was also a lecturer, elocutionist and journalist, called Britain home from 1905, by which point most Australian states had granted many women, although not Aboriginal women, the right to vote.
“While in UK, she was from the colonies, and as not one of the Pankhurst people, she was outside their recognition,” says Bedford. “Also, as one of the WFL people, she was against the war – another problem at the time – and she married a divorced person, who seems to have left his wife for her.”