Mary Morrison was living in Ballarat at the time she signed the Women’s Petition. She was born in 1863 in a small gold-mining settlement not far from Ballarat and close by father worked at the diggings at Dolly’s Creek. Due to ill health as a miner, he was unable to work for many years, Mary had to leave school at the age of 12 to work “in service” to help support the younger children in the family. However, she read widely and her considerable drive and energy led her to become a local leader in the temperance movement, an activity that continued after her marriage to Duncan McPhee, which took place in the same year that she signed the Petition – 1891.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was established in Victoria in 1889, and Mary immediately became an active member in Ballarat. Members of the Union not only supported total abstinence from alcohol but also feminist objectives. They believed that women could influence the liquor traffic through the vote, and so the two aims – total abstinence and women’s suffrage – were inextricably linked. They also visited gaols, assisted prisoners on their release, promoted world peace, pushed for equal pay for women and a higher age of consent for girls, and worked to get more female factory inspectors. Later on they pressed successfully for the introduction of children’s courts, for municipal playgrounds and free kindergartens.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union were one of the chief organising bodies for the massive Women’s Petition, arguing for votes for women on the grounds of social justice. They continued to put pressure on the government for women’s suffrage in Victoria until it finally came to pass in 1908.
After she died in 1932, Mary’s son Stuart, one of her five children, wrote: “From childhood until death she was always busy, and never an idle moment could I detect. She was puritanical in outlook and was active as a church worker from childhood.