photo-icon MMS13PCWF1, The Muriel Matters Society Inc.

Muriel Matters: Adelaide’s daring suffragist

Cultural Heart People of Adelaide

Muriel Matters is recognised as the first woman to speak in the House of Commons after chaining herself to the grille of the Ladies’ Gallery in the British House of Commons on 28 October 1908. Muriel’s non-violent protest brought to light the oppressive symbol this iron gate held in separating women from taking part in parliamentary debate. In her best elocutionist voice, she proclaimed:

“The women of England demand the vote, for too long we have been kept behind this grille.”
Muriel Matters

Muriel served a month’s imprisonment at Holloway Gaol for her actions, considered to be wilfully obstructing London Police. The sentence did nothing to dampen her spirits.

On 16 February 1909, the gumptious 31-year-old took to London’s skies in the world’s first airborne protest - travelling in what was known as a dirigible (an early form of hot air balloon) emblazoned with the words: Votes for Women. Muriel distributed the equivalent of 25kg of WFL flyers to pedestrians below, attempting to intercept the British Houses of Parliament. Her innovative advertising campaign made newspaper headlines everywhere!

Miss Muriel Matters aboard the W F L Vote for Women Caravan Photograph c 1908 MMS13 PCWF1
photo-icon MMS13PCWF1, The Muriel Matters Society Inc.

Miss Muriel Matters aboard the W.F.L. ‘Vote for Women’ Caravan Photograph, 1908.

Muriel Matters travelled back to her homeland of Australia between May and July 1910, running a lecture series across the country, including our very own Adelaide Town Hall. She visited four states in Australia and spoke to thousands in packed theatres. Advertisements lauded Miss Muriel Matters as: That Daring Australian Girl and The Lady of the Grille, England’s Foremost Woman Orator.

Why Muriel Matters AL feature 2
photo-icon D8071/2L, State Library of South Australia

Muriel Matters Lecture at Adelaide Town Hall, June 1910.

She returned to London to discover the fight for the vote was becoming more violent and corrupt. Muriel had no interest in a military campaign and instead turned her efforts to helping those in need.

On 15 October 1914, aged 36, she married Dr William Arnold Porter and became Muriel Matters-Porter; the couple had no children. In 1916, she attended a training course by Maria Montessori in Barcelona, Spain, which began her commitment to Montessori and alternative education. In 1922, she returned to Australia once more to run a lecture series on the merits of Montessori education. Two years later she ran as a Labour candidate for a seat in Hastings, British Parliament General Elections. Although unsuccessful, Muriel’s actions are evidence of her deep belief in women’s right to be heard and at the forefront of decision-making. She lived in Hastings until her death on 17 November 1969, aged 92.

In January 2018, as part of the Adelaide Fringe Street Art Explosion program, artist Claire Foxton was engaged to create a new mural to honour Muriel Matters - adding to the City of Adelaide's rich tapestry of public artworks. You can view Muriel's mural in person in Dawkins Place, just off Frome Street.

Muriel Matters mural by Claire Foxton image by Trentino Priori 1024x616
photo-icon Trentino Priori