Friday, March 31, 2017

8 women from Australia’s history you should know

Vida Goldstein (1869–1949) was born in Portland, Victoria. She was a pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement.
Vida’s activism started in the 1890s: she helped her mother collect signatures for the Woman Suffrage Petition in 1891 (it amassed almost 30,000 signatures) and joined numerous reform organisations and activities, including the Anti-Sweating League, which campaigned against sweatshops and for a minimum wage. Suffrage became Vida’s main interest between 1899 and 1908. She travelled to the USA in 1902 to speak at the International Woman Suffrage Conference.
She was also one of the first woman in the British Empire to stand for election to a national parliament, having contested for the Australian Senate in 1903 as an Independent candidate, proposed by the Women’s Federal Political Association (of which she was president). She won just over 51 thousand votes but lost the election; she would contest for parliament four more times (1910 and 1917 for the Senate, 1913 and 1914 for the House of Representatives).

Vida worked for numerous social reforms—equal property rights for man and wife, for example. She also campaigned for peace: she was the chairman of the Peace Alliance, formed the Women’s Peace Army in 1915 and represented Australian women at a Women’s Peace Conference in Zurich.

Margaret (Lilardia) Tucker (1904–1996) was born at Warrangesda Mission, near Darlington Point, NSW. She was an activist and writer. When she was 12, police took Margaret from her mother and sent her to the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls. She was trained as a “domestic” and spent 11 years serving white families. 

Margaret began campaigning for Indigenous rights in the 1930s and, in 1932, was one of the founding members of the Australian Aborigines’ League (AAL). In 1938, Margaret represented the AAL during the Day of Mourning protest, ran on the 150th anniversary of British colonisation of Australia. She formed part of the delegation to meet Prime Minister Joseph Lyons to discuss the demands of the Aborigines Progressive Association (the protest’s organisers).
She was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1968 in honour of her activism. In 1977, her autobiography If everyone cared was published, becoming one of the first books to garner mainstream attention on the mistreatment of Indigenous Australians.
For further reading about Margaret Tucker you can read: Her story, Australian women in print 1788-1975 by Maragret Bettison
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Elizabeth Kenny: In the early 20th century polio epidemics among children rattled the world. Doctors believed those affected should be put in splints, keeping their legs locked. But Sister Elizabeth Kenny, a bush nurse with no formal qualifications, believed hot towels, massage and exercise were the key. It worked. Despite the establishment dismissing her theories, she cured hundreds of children across Australia and then did the same in the US, where she was named America's Most Admired Woman in 1952.

Caroline Chisholm arrived in Australia in 1838 to find migrant women from Britain lying homeless and begging on the street. As others walked by, she vowed to make a difference. Over the next 10 years the daughter of a wealthy English landowner became a thorn in the side of the establishment - writing letters, hounding bureaucrats and pestering the Governor to make conditions better for those arriving in the colony. She found lodgings and jobs for more than 10,000 women and girls. As a salute to her achievements her portrait was chosen for our original $5 note - the first woman other than the Queen to appear on Australian currency.
JCU Library holds many books about Caroline Chisholm
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Nancy Wake:  Has there been a braver woman? She went to Paris to party in the 1930s, but saw instead Jews being tortured by the Nazis and vowed to make a difference. Joining the French Resistance, she inflicted her own pain on the enemy, even killing a German sentry with her bare hands to stop him setting off an alarm. For years she smuggled food and supplies to the Allies and helped thousands of troops escape through Europe. The Gestapo tagged her "The White Mouse" because she always seemed to slip through their fingers despite being at the top of their Most Wanted list with a five million-franc price on her head.
JCU Library has a collection of works about Nancy Wake.
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Edith Cowan: A tough woman with a compassionate calling. Born in Geraldton in 1861, she was only seven when her mother died and just a teenager when her father was hanged for killing his second wife. After leaving school she became a pioneer advocate for women's and children's rights. In 1921 she won the seat of West Perth in the WA election, the first woman in Australia to enter Parliament. Having fought tirelessly for years to improve conditions for the vulnerable, she set about making changes. Two of her most important legacies were giving women financial security after a divorce and setting up the Children's Protection Society, which was the precursor of the Children's Court. Her significance in Australian history is recognised today with a university named after her and her portrait on our $50 note.
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