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Biographical entry Miller, Emma (1839 - 1917)

Trade Union - Official


Emma Miller came to Brisbane at the age of thirty-nine where she began work as a gentlemen's shirt maker. She became involved in union work, with her involvement coinciding with the growth of the trade union movement in Queensland.

In 1891, she gave evidence to a Royal Commission about tailoring and shirtmaking factories and workshops, exposing them as 'sweatshops'. She also campaigned for equal pay and equal opportunity for women and became foundation president of the Women's Equal Franchise Association which pressured governments for "one woman, one vote".

Ms Miller and her comrades had a win when Australian women were granted the vote in 1902, becoming the first women in the world to vote in a national election. But individual states had not yet granted the vote for women and the Queensland campaign – with Ms Miller at the helm – continued until they achieved their goal in 1907. Although a tiny, frail-looking woman, Ms Miller was in the front line of any strikes during this time and when she was seventy-three she performed an act for which she will always be remembered.

On the 2nd February 1912, during a general strike for the right to trade unionism, Ms Miller led a contingent of women to march on Brisbane's Parliament House. But the women's path was blocked by a wall of police brandishing bayonets and rifles; some on foot, some on horseback. The police charged at the women, who were forced to defend themselves with their umbrellas and hatpins. Emma dug her hatpin into the horse of Police Commissioner Cahill, who was thrown from his mount and later walked with a limp.

When Emma died from cancer on the 22nd January 22, several newspapers ran obituaries, the flag at Brisbane's Trades Hall flew at half mast and unions and women's groups from all over Australia sent condolences and tributes.

Published resources

Book Sections

  • Lees, Kirsten, 'Emma Miller', in Lees, Kirsten (ed.), Votes for Women: The Australian Story, Allen and Unwin, New South Wales, 1995, pp. 110-113. Details
  • Young, Pam, 'Emma Miller', in Radi, Heather (ed.), 200 Australian Women: a Redress Anthology, Women's Redress Press Inc, New South Wales, 1988, pp. 37-38. Details

Online Resources

See also

Ross G. Elford