Every now and then I share some content from The Conversation, and so I am again today. This time, it’s an occasional series they have featuring the “hidden women of history”, in which they “look at under-acknowledged women through the ages”. Not all of these are Australian but around half, so far, are.
The most recent article in the series (see link below) is about Catherine Hay Thomson. It starts:
In 1886, a year before American journalist Nellie Bly feigned insanity to enter an asylum in New York and became a household name, Catherine Hay Thomson arrived at the entrance of Kew Asylum in Melbourne on “a hot grey morning with a lowering sky”.
Hay Thomson’s two-part article, The Female Side of Kew Asylum for The Argus newspaper revealed the conditions women endured in Melbourne’s public institutions.
Her articles were controversial, engaging, empathetic, and most likely the first known by an Australian female undercover journalist.
Before this, the intrepid Thomson had written about Melbourne Hospital, having obtained work there as an assistant nurse. She was quite a social justice mover-and-shaker, and worth reading about.
Here, though, I want to share with you some of the other women in this series which, at the point of writing, numbers 31 articles. The first was published on 31 December 2018, and featured Elsie Masson, a journalist who became an advocate for Aboriginal people. Lydon writes in her article (see link below) that:
As one of the “first white women” to travel in the Northern Territory, Masson’s newspaper articles and book An Untamed Territory – a profusely-illustrated narrative of life in the wild north – show how she popularized the “expert” views of her circle: an elite global network of colonial administrators, including the famous anthropologist Walter Baldwin Spencer.
Lydon writes of Masson’s “transition from dislike to respect” not only of Indigenous Australians but of “others” as well, such as Chinese people. Attending the trial of nine Indigenous men arrested for the murder of trepanger James Campbell also changed her views. Lydon writes that her
account of this trial ultimately argued for the need to acknowledge the coherence of Indigenous tradition, and what today is termed customary law.
These articles cover a wide range of women – Indigenous, immigrant and Australian-born – from the early nineteenth century to well into the twentieth. They cover a wide range of professions and achievements, from the arts and sport to social justice and activism.
Listed below are the articles featuring Australian women (alphabetical by last name):
- Mary Jane Cain (1844-1929), land rights activist, matriarch and community builder, by Heidi Norman (UTS)
- Wauba Debar, an Indigenous swimmer from Tasmania who saved her captors, by Megan Stronach and Daryl Adair (UTS)
- Australia’s first known female voter, the famous Mrs Fanny Finch (1815-1863), by Kacey Sinclair (LaTrobe U)
- Isabel Flick (1928-2000), the tenacious campaigner who fought segregation in Australia, by Heather Goodall (UTS)
- Flos Greig (1880-1958), Australia’s first female lawyer and early innovator, by Renee Knake (RMIT): appears in the ADB in a Greig family article.
- Hop Lin Jong (1884/1886-1970), a Chinese immigrant in the early days of White Australia, by Antonia Finnane (UMelb)
- Pat Larter (1936-1996), pioneering ‘femail’ artist who gave men the Playboy treatment, by Joanna Mendelssohn (UMelb)
- Isabel Letham (1899-1995), daring Australian surfing pioneer, by Yves Rees (LaTrobe U): Also appears in the ADB.
- Frances Levvy (1831-1924), Australia’s quietly radical early animal rights campaigner, by Elaine Stratford (UTas): also appears in the ADB
- Ruby Lindsay (1885-1919), one of Australia’s first female graphic designers, by Jane Connory (Monash U). Appears, very briefly, in the ADB in a Lindsay family article.
- Kathleen McArthur (1915-2000), the wildflower woman who took on Joh Bjelke-Petersen, by Susan Davis (CQU)
- Elsie Masson (1890-1935), photographer, writer, intrepid traveller, by Jane Lydon (UWA)
- Catherine Hay Thomson (1846?-1928), the Australian undercover journalist who went inside asylums and hospitals, by Kerry Davies (UNSW) and Willa McDonald (Macquarie University
- Leila Waddell (1880-1932), Australian violinist, philosopher of magic and fearless rebel, by Alice Gorman (Flinders U)
- Eliza Winstanley (1818-1882), colonial stage star and our first female Richard III, by Jane Woollard (UTas): also appears in the ADB.
I haven’t read all of these articles yet, but once again, I thank The Conversation for bringing these women – few of whom appear, for example, in the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) – to our attention.