During the 1970s, second-wave feminists thoroughly critiqued the relegation of women to childrearing. This left some with a lingering sense that becoming a mother was an old-fashioned or politically regressive choice.
But in fact there is a long tradition of maternal radicalism in Australia. Mothers have been out on the streets, fighting for change, as frequently as they have kept the home fires burning.
The effectiveness of these maternal activists was proven in 1894 when South Australia became the first electorate in the world to give women the vote.
Further evidence of the political power of first-wave feminists came in 1912, when the Commonwealth government approved the Maternity Allowance. This was radical in using government funds to provide state support to mothers as citizens, undercutting the authority of their husbands.
In the 1960s and 1970s, while women’s liberation movement activists such as Merle Thornton, Marcia Langton and Zelda D’Aprano were demanding equal rights for women, middle-class mothers around Australia were quietly rebelling against the medicalisation of pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
Mothers have a long history of political activism not just in Australia, but around the world.