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Matters, Muriel Lilah (1877–1969)

by Fayette Gosse

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Muriel Lilah Matters (1877-1969), by unknown photographer, 1902-12

Muriel Lilah Matters (1877-1969), by unknown photographer, 1902-12

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H89.224/37

Muriel Lilah Matters (1877-1969), suffragist, was born on 12 November 1877 at Bowden, Adelaide, third of ten children of John Leonard Matters, cabinetmaker and later stockbroker, and his wife Emma Alma, née Warburton. She studied music and elocution, reciting Whitman and Ibsen, then lived for a time in Sydney and Melbourne, acting with the Robert Brough Comedy Company. In 1901 she settled again in Adelaide, where she performed at the Cowandilla Salon, Mrs R. Quesnel's music rooms and elsewhere. In 1902 she directed Pinero's play Sweet Lavender for the Appendreena Dramatic Club. She later moved with her family to Perth.

Both in Adelaide and Perth Muriel Matters was influenced by European friends who imbued her with socialist ideals. In 1905 she left for London where Peter, Prince Kropotkin, Russian revolutionary anarchist, and the journalist W. T. Stead encouraged her to further radical activity. She soon abandoned acting and in 1907 joined the Women's Freedom League.

Miss Matters lectured in Hyde Park and in 1908 took the first 'Votes for Women' caravan on a tour of villages in the south of England where she met Henry James, a supporter, at Rye. On 28 October she gained notoriety by chaining herself to an iron grille in the ladies' gallery of the House of Commons and declaiming women's suffrage aims. She was removed, still attached to the grille, and sent to Holloway Prison for a month; she adopted the cause of prison reform. Matters spent a year in Wales advocating votes for women and held meetings in Dublin. In 1909 she flew over London in an airship inscribed 'Votes for Women', scattering handbills over parliament. But she objected when more violent militants took over the movement.

In Australia next year Matters lectured in several States on feminism and socialism: her manner was earnest but humorous and she excelled at repartee. She denounced sweating and advocated women's unions, equal divorce laws, equal pay for equal work, endowment of motherhood, and support for unmarried mothers. With Vida Goldstein she secured a resolution from the Senate to the British prime minister detailing the good results from the enfranchisement of Australian women. In London in 1911 she helped to form a women's settlement to further educational opportunities in the Lambeth slums. In 1916 she attended a training course by educationalist Maria Montessori at Barcelona, Spain, and later addressed the British Montessori Society. Muriel was a Christian.

The book Australasians Who Count … (London, 1913), edited by her sister-in-law Mrs L. W. Matters, included a chapter, 'My impressions as an agitator for social reform', by Muriel. On 15 October 1914 in the London Registry Office she married Dr William Arnold Porter (d.1949), a divorced Bostonian dentist; they had no children. She organized a national conference of women in London on 14 April to discuss peace and disarmament.

In 1922 she lectured in Australia and in 1924 stood, unsuccessfully, as Muriel Matters-Porter, as a Labour candidate for the House of Commons for Hastings. Her brother Leonard (1881-1951), a journalist, was Labour member of parliament for Lambeth, Kennington, in 1929-31.

Mrs Porter was a slight, attractive and vivacious woman with a mass of golden hair. She lived on at Hastings, enjoying sea bathing and remaining lucid to a great age. She died there on 17 November 1969.

Select Bibliography

  • Quiz and the Lantern (Adelaide), 4 Apr, 30 May, 7 Aug 1901, 12 Dec 1902, 12 Feb 1904
  • Critic (Adelaide), 9 Aug 1905, p 7
  • Women's Freedom League, 4, 11 June, 10, 30 July 1908
  • Southern Sphere, 1 July 1910, p 12
  • British-Australasian, 9 Feb 1911, p 9, 22 June 1916, p 16
  • 'Suffragists at Mrs. McKenna's Reception', Times (London), 17 Feb 1909, p 10
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 7 Nov 1908
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 23 June 1910
  • Socialist (Melbourne), 22, 29 July, 5 Aug 1910
  • 'Letter from Miss Matters', Woman Voter, 1 July 1915, pp 2-3
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 17 Jan 1925, p 1606.

Citation details

Fayette Gosse, 'Matters, Muriel Lilah (1877–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/matters-muriel-lilah-7522/text13121, published in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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