Mary Lee

Mary Lee (1821-1909) sailed from Ireland to Adelaide in 1879. A practical-minded Christian and social reformer, she was active in the Social Purity Society working for legal changes to womenís sexual and social status. It was mainly through her untiring efforts that South Australian women were the first in Australia to gain the vote on the same terms as men. Courtesy Australian Dictionary of Biography


1 January 1885

Age of consent

The Social Purity Society successfully lobbies for legal reforms aimed at the protection of children from sexual exploitation. Beginning in South Australia, the reforms are based on the British Criminal Law Consolidation Amendment Act 1885 passed after public revelations about juvenile prostitution and the trade in young girls to work in brothels. Congregational minister, Joseph Kirby, and suffragist, Mary Lee, are influential in achieving the reforms, including raising the age of sexual consent for girls from 13 to 16 years and regulating the legal age of young people working in brothels.


Reverend Joseph Coles Kirby, 1920.