With International Women’s Day on 8 March, we decided it was time to introduce a page specifically about the women of Collingwood.
Especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, men seemed to be at the forefront of activity. Women could not vote, even in the local Council elections if they were property owners, could not stand for Parliament, nor be elected to the local council. Yet as a proportion of the population they often represented more than half, and by no means all were staying at home minding babies and doing housework. They were artists, musicians, business partners, publicans, doctors, and nurses.
When we first started listing names for our Collingwood Notables database, we soon realised that men were outnumbering women to a significant degree, despite the fact that we were very aware of some remarkable local women ranging from early colonists such as Georgiana MacCrae to Grace Vale, one of Melbourne’s first woman doctors. A few years ago we started hunting for more women. Useful areas were teachers, charity workers such as Margaret Saddler, and welfare workers such as Matron Skiddy. We also began to notice how often a wife played a significant role in her husband’s activities. Harriett Kreitmayer is a good example of this, not only helping Max in his famous Waxworks but taking over the business, with her daughter, after Max’s death. Alice Baker and Margaretta Shelmerdine are others.
We plan to re-double our efforts to add more women to our Collingwood Notables database. Women take more effort to search out, but we have some wonderful people for you to read about. Just added are some remarkable residents of 18 St Heliers Street in Abbotsford: ground-breaking gymnasts Harriet Dick and Josephine McCormick, and pianist Rieke Parker. We have also just added Lisa Bellear, Collingwood’s first Aboriginal councillor. And coming soon will be local activist and Councillor Marion Miller, first woman Councillor Rita Jamieson, and two World War I nurses. Check them out in the Notables database.
We will continue to add to this page throughout the year. If you have any suggestions, please let us know. Our women will no longer be neglected!
Victorian Women’s “Monster Petition” 1891
The history of the fight for the vote by Victorian women was a long and winding one with many disappointments, but also extraordinary resilience and tenacity shown by amazing women who inspired women around the world with their actions.
The Victorian Women’s Suffrage Petition, which is one such example of the work of these women, on its completion was 260 metres long and 200 millimetres wide and the largest known petition of the 19th century. Its tremendous length earned it the name of the “Monster Petition”. The petition was tabled in Parliament on 29 September 1891 and is now held in the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV).
Dozens of dedicated women with paper and pencils took to the streets to collect signatures, travelling by foot and by train in city and country and knocking on the doors of people from all backgrounds. Activist Vida Goldstein wrote later about her experience doorknocking for the petition and pointed to the strength of support in industrial suburbs such as Collingwood. “The feeling of equality between men and women was most vital” she affirmed, “in the industrial suburbs. Never once were the canvassers met by a working man who said, ‘I won’t allow my wife to sign the Petition.’ On the contrary, if the husband opened the door he would call his wife saying, ‘There is a lady who wants to know if you want the vote’. And invariably she did.”
In just six weeks, almost 30,000 women and men from more than 800 different Victorian towns and suburbs signed the petition, affirming their belief that ‘Women should Vote on Equal Terms with Men’. These amazing women convinced Victorians and particularly women that voting and having women representatives could improve conditions for them and their children.
The petition, which needed several attendants to carry it into the chamber, was presented to the Victorian Parliament with these words at the head of the 260 metres of names:
“To the Honourable Speaker and the Members of the Legislative Assembly of the Colony of Victoria the humble petition of the undersigned men and women resident in Victoria respectfully sheweth that the exclusion of women from the Franchise is both unjust to them and inimical to the welfare of the state.”
Did the Petition succeed? Well, the answer is: the success was by no means immediate. In 1908 the nineteenth bill relating to women’s suffrage since 1889 was presented to Victorian Parliament. By this stage, the Commonwealth and every other Australian state had passed women’s suffrage bills. This time the bill was successful, and the Adult Suffrage Bill was passed on 24 November 1908, 17 years after the “Monster Petition” was presented to Victorian Parliament. Victorian non-indigenous women were able at last to vote in Victorian state elections. Indigenous women were to wait decades longer for that right.
In 2008 to mark the centenary of women’s suffrage in Victoria a “Great Petition” sculpture was commissioned by the State Government of Victoria and the City of Melbourne from artists Susan Hewitt and Penelope Lee. The sculpture was installed in Burston Reserve, near the Victorian Parliament building.
Almost one thousand Collingwood women signed the 1891 petition to give women the vote. We have extracted their names and addresses from the Monster Petition which has been transcribed and is available in full on the Victorian Parliament website (see link below). For people who were specifically resident in Abbotsford, Clifton Hill or Collingwood at the time you can search through the extract attached below. All entries should have a name, an address and a link to the page of the petition on which the name is to be found. In some cases, the writing is not legible or has faded so some elements of the entry may not be there. We have corrected the spelling and transcription of street names. Work has also been done where possible to correct transcription issues with the women’s names by comparison to names in the Sands & McDougall directory. But if you find someone on the list and can further update the information, please let us know.
If you are researching a particular person whom you cannot locate on our extract, please be sure to go and do a more detailed search on the full Petition where you can search using different terms. This may allow you to identify the person whose name has been transcribed inaccurately, or who may, for example, have signed the petition when not in Collingwood. Examples of this are a couple of our Collingwood Notables Clara Stone and Grace Vale who worked or lived in Collingwood but appear on the petition with Melbourne University as location.
- Jacqueline Kent, Vida: a woman for our time, Penguin Random House, 2020
- Clare Wright, You daughters of freedom: the Australians who won the vote and inspired the world, Melbourne: Text, 2018
- Victorian Historical Journal Volume 79, issue 270, 2008 (Celebrating Centenary of 1908 Bill)
- Search the full petition here: https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/search-women-s-petition
Search the Collingwood names in the following PDF file:
Collingwood Women Councillors
As some of you probably know November 2014 marked the centenary of a significant landmark for Victorian Councils. It was in November 1914 that the law changed and women for the first time were enabled and entitled to stand as candidates for local Victorian councils. The Collingwood Historical Society worked with the Australian Local Government Women’s Association (Vic) and the Victorian Local Government Association to ensure that they had all the relevant information and photos about Collingwood women Councillors and Mayors.
Collingwood’s first woman Councillor was Rebecca “Rita” Jamieson who was elected in 1963 to Collingwood Council 49 years after women were entitled to stand for Council. Those of you who have attended our tours of the Collingwood Town Hall will also have heard about one of the other results of this research. Due to representations from the Society, the Yarra Council agreed in the 2014 refurbishment of Collingwood Town Hall to name one of the meeting rooms at Collingwood Town Hall the “Jamieson” Room. This was a fitting tribute for the centenary of women standing for Council. You can read our Collingwood Town Hall tour here.
Labor Party member, Rebecca “Rita” Jamieson, was also an active member of the Union of Australian Women and one of a number of women from its Victorian branch who successfully broached the male bastion of Victorian local government. Rita fought to improve conditions for working-class women and children, and was involved in the establishment of an after-school program in Collingwood, and with Singleton’s Health Centre. She was a Councillor until her death in 1970.
Rita was our first woman councillor, but did you also know that the former City of Collingwood had SEVEN women Mayors and NINETEEN women Councillors? Whilst Rita served in solitary splendour as the only woman on an otherwise male Council and her successor Caroline Hogg started her life as a Councillor in the same way, Caroline was soon joined by Solange Shapiro and after that female Councillors were always present and a force to be reckoned with. The names of the female Mayors and Councillors follow.
|HOGG, Caroline Jennifer
|SHAPIRO, Solange Marie Denise
|JENKINS, Pamela Gail
|BACKHOLER, Jennifer Margaret
|FLEET, Marcia Jane
|MEIER, Diane M
Councillors in date of election
|Rebecca (Rita) JAMIESON
|Caroline Jennifer HOGG
|Solange Marie Denise SHAPIRO
|June Mary BRADBURY
|Robin Margaret TUNBRIDGE
|Pamela Gail JENKINS
|Jennifer Margaret BACKHOLER
|Marcia Jane FLEET
As part of our research into these Councillors, we have also been trying to track down photos and bios. We now have photos of all the Mayors and most of the Councillors but if any of you have any photos we would love a copy of them. And we would also be interested in hearing from any of you who have any stories about these women or know what they did after they left Council. We have recently completed a Notable entry for Lisa Bellear which you can read here, and are working on similar documents for local activist and Councillor Marion Miller, and first woman Councillor Rita Jamieson.
If you have any info, you can contact us via the Contact Us page of our site. But please be aware that we only include people in our Notables database after they have died.
Thanks in advance for any assistance you can give with this project.
Collingwood World War I Nurses
Over 3,000 Australian women are estimated to have served as nurses during World War One. The majority of these served in the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS). Others who were too impatient to wait for the first Australian convoy or who were already abroad when war broke out enlisted and served with other countries such as France and Britain. Other women worked as volunteers, with the Red Cross for example, when their age or marital status did not meet the AANS criteria.
Unlike the men, women often were not commemorated in local memorials and honour boards set up in honour of the local soldiers. However, the City of Collingwood World War I Honour Roll, headed inaccurately “in Grateful Remembrance by the People of Collingwood of their Honored Men who made the Supreme Sacrifice in the Great War1914-18”, contains and honours the names of two women who served as nurses. They stand out to anyone viewing the board as they have after their names in brackets the word “nurse”.
Louise Bicknell died in Cairo on 25 June 2015 from septicaemia which developed from a wound in her arm. She left behind at 33 Langridge Street, Abbotsford, parents and three sisters who were Sunday school teachers at St Philip’s Church of England in Hoddle Street. Louise, who had trained at Moroopna Hospital and worked at the (Royal) Women’s Hospital, was at the time of enlistment operating a private hospital in Bairnsdale. She is believed to be the first Australian nurse to die in the Great War. You can learn more about her life in the Australian War Memorial Last Post Service for her here. The second nurse on the Collingwood Honour Roll is Lettitia Gladys Moreton who died of enteric (typhoid) in Quetta, India, on 11 November 1916. Gladys had set sail on the Orsova from Melbourne on 17 July 1915 and served briefly in Egypt before being sent to India. Gladys had completed her training and worked for five years at Bethesda Hospital in Richmond, where her aunt was the Matron. Gladys Moreton is one of many people on the Collingwood Honour Roll whose connexion to Collingwood is obscure, but a possible link may be that she travelled to war from Australia with another nurse with known Collingwood connections, Annie McHardy.
Aside from the two nurses who died, four nurses who served with the AANS and returned to Australia after the war have been found with associations with Collingwood. These include the afore-mentioned Annie McHardy who trained at (Royal) Melbourne Hospital and was working at the Melbourne District Nursing Service based at Floraston in Victoria Parade, Collingwood, at the time of her enlistment. Annie served in England and France. Elizabeth Regan trained at Launceston Hospital and was working at Royal South Sydney Hospital when she enlisted on 3 August 1915 on the same day as her brother Charles enlisted in Melbourne. Their mother was living at 33 Mollison Street, Abbotsford. Her brother died in action at Villers Bretonneux, and Elizabeth who served in Egypt and France was mentioned in dispatches for “distinguished service and devotion to duty”. The Homeopathic Hospital in St Kilda Road, South Melbourne was the location where Edith Tuxworth trained as a nurse. She was born in Clifton Hill where her family lived at the Yarra Bend Asylum and her father worked as an attendant. She embarked from Melbourne on 6 December 1916 and served in England, France and Italy before being discharged in January 1919 as “married”. Elizabeth Singleton who had trained as a nurse at Stawell Hospital enlisted in July 1917 and served in Egypt and Greece (Salonika). When she enlisted, her parents and younger sister were living in Wellington Street, Collingwood while another sister continued with her nursing training at Stawell Hospital. Elizabeth was the granddaughter of Dr John Singleton and his wife Isabella and continued their care for others into her generation.
The six nurses mentioned above were all part of the AANS, but Helen Bowie of Queens Parade, Clifton Hill, is an example of a nurse who was in London at the time of the outbreak of the war. She, along with her aunt’s husband surgeon Dr George Horne, served in French military hospitals in 1914-5. Her life is documented here.
These seven World War I nurses serve as examples of women who followed different pathways to and during the war. Do you know anything else about these women or of anyone else from Collingwood who served as a nurse during World War One? Please let us know through our Contact Us page if you do.
Rae, Ruth Scarlet poppies: the army experience of Australian nurses during World War One, 2nd ed, Ruth Rae Consultancies, 2012
Rees, Peter Anzac girls: the extraordinary story of our World War I nurses, Allen & Unwin, 2014 (first edition published in 2008 by Allen & Unwin as The other Anzacs)
World War One: a history in 100 stories by Bruce Scates, Rebecca Wheatley & Laura James, Viking Australia, 2016
The Collingwood institution most closely associated with nuns for the longest period is the Convent of the Good Shepherd. In 1863 four sisters of the Good Shepherd order moved into Abbotsford House where they established a Magdalen Asylum for homeless, destitute and ‘fallen’ women. They soon added a Reformatory School and Industrial School, and for many decades cared for a range of neglected and unfortunate girls and women. By the turn of the century there were as many as 700 residents on the site, supported by farming, an industrial laundry, donations and charitable fundraising. In 1879 they opened St Euphrasia’s, a day school for local pupils. In 1975 the major part of the site was sold while the nuns retained the church, a convent and nursing home. Good Shepherd Youth and Family Services continues their work supporting girls, women and families. Two of the nuns have been added to the Notables of Collingwood database: Bridget Doyle (Mother Mary of St Joseph), founder and first Mother Superior; and Johanna Curtain (Mother Mary of Mount Carmel) third Mother Superior.
The other order of nuns associated with Collingwood was the Sisters of Charity, who taught at St Joseph’s in Otter Street and St John’s in Clifton Hill. Catholic schools were staffed by lay teachers until the 1872 Education Act removed state aid from 1874. It was decided to establish a Catholic primary education system and many religious came from other countries, especially Ireland, to help with teaching. In December 1891 the Sisters of Charity came to teach at St Joseph’s and by the mid twentieth century the majority of teachers were nuns, but numbers declined until there were no nuns teaching in the school.
St John’s School had lay teachers until 1894 when the Sisters of Charity were asked to take over the administration. The nuns travelled each day from their convent in Victoria Parade (Fitzroy) by tram or on foot, but in 1924 they moved into a large house at 12 North Terrace, overlooking the Darling Gardens and very close to the school. Several of the nuns had lived in Clifton Hill as children and their reminiscences are included in the history of the Darling Gardens, cited below. The number of nuns declined and in 1975 the first lay principal since 1894 was appointed. By that time only three nuns remained, and in 1990 the last Sister of Charity was on staff. In 2004, with only two sisters left at the North Terrace convent, the building was sold and the nuns moved to 88 Rowe Street North Fitzroy.
Cummings, Karen T, Bitter roots, sweet fruit: a history of schools in Collingwood, Abbotsford and Clifton Hill, Abbotsford, Collingwood Historical Society, 2008.
Meyer, Tina and Graeme Loughlin, “I should be glad if a few elms and oaks were included”: the Darling Gardens, Clifton Hill, Abbotsford, Collingwood Historical Society, 1995.
Teaching was a respectable occupation for women in the nineteenth century, whether in the state-subsidised system, private schools or privately. Anne Drake was a successful headmistress (though always paid less than her male equivalent) and Emily Christopherson taught in four Collingwood schools over a period of 27 years. Mary Ann Shakespeare ran a private school in her parents’ home, while Abbotsford resident Ella Tolhurst tutored the children of prominent family William and Elizabeth Pitt before going on to achieve high academic qualifications and a career in grammar schools
Cummings, Karen, Bitter roots, sweet fruit: a history of schools in Collingwood, Abbotsford and Clifton Hill, Abbotsford, Collingwood Historical Society, 2008.
Much welfare assistance in Collingwood came under the aegis of the Australian Church’s Social Improvement Society created by the Rev Dr Charles Strong and his wife Janet in the late nineteenth century. One of their innovations was a creche where working mothers could leave their children during the day. Violet St Clare Langley was the matron from 1889 to 1898. The creche expanded over the years and added a kindergarten. Among its teachers were a number of innovative women whose stories will eventually be written.
Dr John Singleton was involved in a number of charitable services, one of which the Retreat for Friendless and Fallen Women where Elizabeth Skiddy was matron for 25 years.
Many of the women who carried on this sort of work are hard to identify, but we hope to add more over time.
The Collingwood Methodist Mission, with churches in Gipps Street and Sackville Street, carried out charitable work and established a free kindergarten. A well-known Mission identity in the early twentieth century was Evangeline Ireland (Sister Faith), a member of the Methodist Sisterhood, who later founded the Yooralla Hospital School and Kindergarten.
A more recent figure is Edith Morgan, the first social worker to be employed by Collingwood Council, who worked to improve services such as childcare, community health, and housing. She received the Order of Australia medal for service to the community in 1989, and was awarded Victorian Senior Citizen of the year in 1991.
Charitable and Philanthropic Women
Behind the charitable services and the employed staff who operated them on a day-to-day basis was a large cohort of women who sat on committees, such as those for the creche and kindergartens, and organised fundraising events. While many of them worked hard and did much good, there is sometimes an air of “ladies who lunch” about these women, especially when newspaper reports focus on gowns and flower arrangements. Fundraising efforts included massive bazaars which went on for days and included concerts and performances. The contents of the many stalls were made or donated by volunteers.
An Abbotsford woman whose name is still well-known nowadays because of her association with the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute was Alice Baker. Women such as
Margaretta Shelmerdine who owned a large house with extensive grounds were in a good position to host fundraising garden parties and fetes.
It came as a surprise to CHS members when in the 1980s they began researching Collingwood hotels to realise how many of the licensees were women. So we welcomed historian Clare Wright’s enlightening research which goes beyond the myth of male dominance to reveal the dynamic presence of women in hotel-keeping. In 1906, for example, as many as 58% of Collingwood’s hotels had a female publican. To date only one,
Josephine Anderson of Clifton Hill’s striking three-storey hotel, The Royal, has been added to the Notables database, but more are in the pipeline, including Mary Forde of The Fox, Catherine Roberts of the British Crown, Mary Maher of The Star and Alexandrina McVea of Mac’s Hotel.
Clare Wright (2001) ‘Of public houses and private lives: female hotelkeepers as domestic entrepreneurs’, Australian Historical Studies, 32:116, 57-75, DOI: 10.1080/10314610108596147
Wright, Clare, Beyond the ladies lounge: Australia’s female publicans, Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 2003.