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MoB Sunday Stories: Emma Miller

A seamstress, suffragette, unionist, and labor activist, Emma Miller was born on 26 June 1839 in Chesterfield, England. Emma first found her passion for social justice when her egalitarian, Chartist father took her along to political meetings from a young age.

Throughout her youth, Emma trained as a seamstress and pattern maker (the latter being a rare skill amongst other women of the trade).

Portrait of Mrs Emma Miller. Negative number - 86511. Courtesy Brisbane City Council.

In 1879, Emma migrated to Brisbane with her husband and young children. But two short years after arrival, tragedy struck the family when her husband died suddenly, leaving the newly widowed Emma to support her family as a seamstress.

Emma noticed that her fellow female colleagues were ultimately not taking home paychecks that reflected the 12-hourshifts and six-day work week required to keep food on the table. In 1890 Emma testified against the sweatshop conditions that were running rife through the industry and began encouraging her contemporaries to join the trade union movement.

Illustration from the The Worker on February 12 1912 demonstrating the Black Friday event. 1912.jpg

The movement grew in popularity and in 1894 a group of women met to form a lobby group dedicated to electoral reform. The goal? To secure the vote for all property owners, regardless of their gender. Emma’s “one person, one vote” catch cry was out to battle the unfair advantage of the plural voting system of the day which enabled men to cast one vote per electorate in which he owned land.

In 1894, a stacked meeting of the Women’s Equal Franchise Association saw Emma elected as president, a title she held until 1905. During her presidency, Emma worked tirelessly to help secure the vote for women.

During the First World War, Emma heavily opposed conscription and spoke out against it as vice-president of the Women’s Peace Army and president of the Queensland Anti-Conscription Campaign Executive women’s auxiliary.
Emma Miller died in Toowoomba, Queensland, in January 1917, but her legacy as a titan of the suffragette movement lives on today.Want to read more stories about Brisbane’s pioneering women? Head to our MoB Shop to grab your copy of women of brisbane: Judy Watson.

Police lining up in Brisbane on Black Friday. 1912. Image PM1001b. Image Courtesy State Library Queensland.
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