While it’s no surprise that monumental events like wars, accidents and assassinations often make the history books, there is something immensely satisfying about trawling through the archives for the histories of everyday people and events – those at risk of becoming lost in stacks of archives and quiet corners of the internet.
One such event occurred 85 years ago, in October 1932, when a startling discovery was made in Melbourne. According to the Queensland Times, a death certificate was issued prematurely ‘before the actual death of the patient,’ in an event that made the papers all the way on the other side of the country. This unfortunate diagnosis was preceded by another, in which ‘a patient was prepared for burial although he was not actually dead’.
The organisation that brought the mistake to the paper’s attention was the Women’s Vigilance Society, part of the United Council for Women Suffrage [sic]. The latter was a Melbournebased organisation formed in 1894, made up of various women’s rights groups – including the Women’s Political Association, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Victorian Trades Hall Council. As a coalition of many different perspectives – including conservatives and socialists, radicals and religious organisations – the group led public meetings and resolutions, drafted letters and lobbied government, advancing the suffrage campaign by bringing attention to issues that affected women, such as education, prohibition and birth control.
While just a mere mention in this fragment from the Queensland Times, the organisation survived as a group for quite some time, reminding us that even the smallest snippet of text from the past can provide a link back to some of the most important ideas and concerns of the day.