Merle Thornton was born during the Great Depression in Australia. She studied at the University of Sydney at times when most of the girls left the school at age of fifteen. Otherwise, her life path could be understood as very common. She got married and had children. During very strict times in Australia, she had to hide her marriage and also her pregnancy in order to keep a job.
In the 1960s, she decided she wants to be a part of the change. During her husband’s stay at the University of Queensland, she demanded the right to be a part of the conversation in academic life and started her feminist activism.
Thornton became most famous thanks to Regatta Hotel Protest which was a defining moment in Australia’s feminism movement. In 1965, Merle Thornton and her friend Rosalie Bogner chained themselves to the bar rail of the Regatta Hotel in Toowong, Brisbane as a protest to the exclusion of serving women in pubs as during this time women were refused service. Five years later, it led to the repeal of section 59A of the Queensland Liquor Act and the end of segregated drinking in that State. This protest not only changed the law but also brought international attention to the women’s liberation movement as a result of the media coverage.
After the protest, Thornton founded the Equal Opportunities for Women Association which campaigned to eliminate the marriage bar which had excluded married women from career public service in Australia.
Throughout her life, she campaigned for women’s issues such as equal pay, equal opportunities, and many more. In addition, she also contributed to academics in the field of social theory and feminism. In November 2020, Merle Thornton was recognized with an honorary doctorate to fight corporate gender inequality.
Merle Thornton is proof of how important is to raise a voice against inequalities and what one small act can change.
Written by WAVE Intern Mária Trubanová