“Trust the Women”: Dora Meeson Coates’s Suffrage Banner and the Popular Construction of Australia’s Feminist Past in the Late Twentieth Century
In 1988, the Australian federal government purchased Anglo-Australian artist Dora Meeson Coates’s “Trust the Women” banner as part of the country’s belated efforts to memorialize the suffrage victories that once made its White citizens the most enfranchised people on earth. However, between the fin de siècle and the 1970s, which witnessed the concurrent rise of women’s history and state feminism, feminists had been ambivalent about commemorating the suffrage campaigns, especially at the national level. Since the late 1980s, the banner has experienced a transformation from an artefact few Australians had known about, much less forgotten, into the most familiar symbol of the country’s suffrage movements. Brought about by memory agents—activists, bureaucrats, historians, and politicians—this shift reveals the public appeal of British suffrage iconography over the material record of Australian activists’ “quiet” toil, a sentiment which has increasingly shaped the memorialization of local suffrage stories.