Muriel Lilah Matters

Muriel Lilah Matters was born in the working class suburb of Bowden, Adelaide, Australia.

Muriel Lilah Matters was born in the working class suburb of Bowden, Adelaide, Australia. She studied piano and elocution at Adelaide University and pursued an acting career in Australia and then in London after moving there in 1905. She later became actively involved in the Women’s Freedom League (WFL) and agitated for women’s suffrage in ‘militant but not violent’ways as was WFL policy.

While a WFL member, Muriel was a leading figure in their major campaigns. In the summer of 1908, for example, she established new WFL branches on a caravan tour of south-east counties and Wales. In October 1908, she chained herself to the Ladies Gallery ‘grille’ and made the first ‘speech’ by a woman in the House of Commons. In 1908, after a brief spell of imprisonment in Holloway, she became an advocate for prison reform. In 1909, she dropped suffrage handbills from an airship on to the royal procession at the opening of Parliament – the first aeronautical protest.

Muriel married an American dentist named William Porter in 1914 and had no children. She joined the No-Conscription Fellowship at the outbreak of World War One. In 1915, she travelled to the International Congress of Women in The Hague to discuss options for peace. Also during WWI, she travelled to Italy and trained under Maria Montessori, later promoting her educational methods in England and Australia.

In 1924, Muriel ran unsuccessfully as Labour parliamentary candidate for Hastings. There is a blue plaque dedicated to her at her old home in Hastings and after recent refurbishment of the offices of Hastings Borough Council, the building has been named ‘Muriel Matters House. In Adelaide, the town of her birth, there is a walk named in her honour and a sign marking the site of a future statue. There is also a reading room in the South Australian Parliament House named after her.

Muriel devoted her life to creating a system free of injustice and worked towards a future that would embrace equality as the norm. Her story is unique in that she travelled from a Commonwealth country that had already granted women the right to vote. She wasted no time in helping her British ‘sisters’ achieve the same democratic status that she had previously held. 

Muriel remained active in public life until the 1950s and died in 1969.

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