Tag Archives: women

Hidden women of history: Catherine Hay Thomson, the Australian undercover journalist who went inside asylums and hospitals



Catherine Hay Thomson went undercover as an assistant nurse for her series on conditions at Melbourne Hospital.
A. J. Campbell Collection/National Library of Australia

Kerrie Davies, UNSW and Willa McDonald, Macquarie University

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

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.

A ‘female vagabond’

Hay Thomson was accused of being a spy by Kew Asylum’s supervising doctor. The Bulletin called her “the female vagabond”, a reference to Melbourne’s famed undercover reporter of a decade earlier, Julian Thomas. But she was not after notoriety.

Unlike Bly and her ambitious contemporaries who turned to “stunt journalism” to escape the boredom of the women’s pages – one of the few avenues open to women newspaper writers – Hay Thomson was initially a teacher and ran schools with her mother in Melbourne and Ballarat.

Hay Thomson, standing centre with her mother and pupils at their Ballarat school, was a teacher before she became a journalist.
Ballarat Grammar Archives/Museum Victoria

In 1876, she became one of the first female students to sit for the matriculation exam at Melbourne University, though women weren’t allowed to study at the university until 1880.

Going undercover

Hay Thomson’s series for The Argus began in March 1886 with a piece entitled The Inner Life of the Melbourne Hospital. She secured work as an assistant nurse at Melbourne Hospital (now The Royal Melbourne Hospital) which was under scrutiny for high running costs and an abnormally high patient death rate.

Doctors at Melbourne Hospital in the mid 1880s did not wash their hands between patients, wrote Catherine Hay Thomson.
State Library of Victoria

Her articles increased the pressure. She observed that the assistant nurses were untrained, worked largely as cleaners for poor pay in unsanitary conditions, slept in overcrowded dormitories and survived on the same food as the patients, which she described in stomach-turning detail.

The hospital linen was dirty, she reported, dinner tins and jugs were washed in the patients’ bathroom where poultices were also made, doctors did not wash their hands between patients.

Writing about a young woman caring for her dying friend, a 21-year-old impoverished single mother, Hay Thomson observed them “clinging together through all fortunes” and added that “no man can say that friendship between women is an impossibility”.

The Argus editorial called for the setting up of a “ladies’ committee” to oversee the cooking and cleaning. Formal nursing training was introduced in Victoria three years later.

Kew Asylum

Hay Thomson’s next series, about women’s treatment in the Kew Asylum, was published in March and April 1886.

Her articles predate Ten Days in a Madhouse written by Nellie Bly (born Elizabeth Cochran) for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World.

While working in the asylum for a fortnight, Hay Thomson witnessed overcrowding, understaffing, a lack of training, and a need for woman physicians. Most of all, the reporter saw that many in the asylum suffered from institutionalisation rather than illness.

Kew Asylum around the time Catherine Hay Thomson went undercover there.
Charles Rudd/State Library of Victoria

She described “the girl with the lovely hair” who endured chronic ear pain and was believed to be delusional. The writer countered “her pain is most probably real”.

Observing another patient, Hay Thomson wrote:

She requires to be guarded – saved from herself; but at the same time, she requires treatment … I have no hesitation in saying that the kind of treatment she needs is unattainable in Kew Asylum.

The day before the first asylum article was published, Hay Thomson gave evidence to the final sitting of Victoria’s Royal Commission on Asylums for the Insane and Inebriate, pre-empting what was to come in The Argus. Among the Commission’s final recommendations was that a new governing board should supervise appointments and training and appoint “lady physicians” for the female wards.

Suffer the little children

In May 1886, An Infant Asylum written “by a Visitor” was published. The institution was a place where mothers – unwed and impoverished – could reside until their babies were weaned and later adopted out.

Hay Thomson reserved her harshest criticism for the absent fathers:

These women … have to bear the burden unaided, all the weight of shame, remorse, and toil, [while] the other partner in the sin goes scot free.

For another article, Among the Blind: Victorian Asylum and School, she worked as an assistant needlewoman and called for talented music students at the school to be allowed to sit exams.

In A Penitent’s Life in the Magdalen Asylum, Hay Thomson supported nuns’ efforts to help women at the Abbotsford Convent, most of whom were not residents because they were “fallen”, she explained, but for reasons including alcoholism, old age and destitution.

Suffrage and leadership

Hay Thomson helped found the Austral Salon of Women, Literature and the Arts in January 1890 and the National Council of Women of Victoria. Both organisations are still celebrating and campaigning for women.

Throughout, she continued writing, becoming Table Talk magazine’s music and social critic.

In 1899 she became editor of The Sun: An Australian Journal for the Home and Society, which she bought with Evelyn Gough. Hay Thomson also gave a series of lectures titled Women in Politics.

A Melbourne hotel maintains that Hay Thomson’s private residence was secretly on the fourth floor of Collins Street’s Rialto building around this time.

Home and back

After selling The Sun, Hay Thomson returned to her birth city, Glasgow, Scotland, and to a precarious freelance career for English magazines such as Cassell’s.

Despite her own declining fortunes, she brought attention to writer and friend Grace Jennings Carmichael’s three young sons, who had been stranded in a Northampton poorhouse for six years following their mother’s death from pneumonia. After Hay Thomson’s article in The Argus, the Victorian government granted them free passage home.

Hay Thomson eschewed the conformity of marriage but tied the knot back in Melbourne in 1918, aged 72. The wedding at the Women Writer’s Club to Thomas Floyd Legge, culminated “a romance of forty years ago”. Mrs Legge, as she became, died in Cheltenham in 1928, only nine years later.The Conversation

Kerrie Davies, Lecturer, School of the Arts & Media, UNSW and Willa McDonald, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The League of Nations was formed 100 years ago today. Meet the Australian women who lobbied to join it



The (all male) members of the commission of the League of Nations. For Australia, the League’s establishment marked the beginning of our independence on the global stage.
Wikimedia Commons

Yves Rees, La Trobe University

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the League of Nations — the intergovernmental organisation, headquartered in Geneva, that emerged from the ashes of the first world war.

Although the League was branded a failure due to its inability to prevent the second world war, recent scholarship has stressed that its legacies continued long after 1939. As the template for modern global governance, and direct precursor to the United Nations, the League profoundly shaped the world we live in today.

For Australia, the League’s establishment marked the beginning of our independence on the global stage. Thanks to the lobbying of Prime Minister Billy Hughes, Australia was granted the right to participate as an autonomous member nation. For the first time, our young nation would step out from Britain’s shadow and speak for itself in international affairs.

But who would speak for Australia?

A century ago, Australia was renowned as an international leader in women’s rights. The Commonwealth Franchise Act (1902) made us the world’s first nation to grant white women the right to vote and stand for parliament. The League was also on board with equality of the sexes. Article 7 of the League Covenant stipulated that all positions were “open equally to men and women.”




Read more:
Birth of a nation: how Australia empowering women taught the world a lesson


Australian ‘substitute’ League delegate Marguerite Dale in 1922.
Wikimedia Commons

Yet despite Australia’s reputation as a feminist trailblazer, our 1920 and 1921 delegations to the annual League of Nations General Assembly were male-only affairs.

Australian women’s organisations were determined to get women included. From early 1921, the National Council of Women lobbied Prime Minister Billy Hughes to follow the example of Norway and Sweden and send a female delegate to Geneva. The President of the International Council of Women, Lady Aberdeen, also lent her support.

Hughes was loath to heed these calls but he did make a partial concession: the 1922 Australian League delegation would include a woman as “substitute” or “alternative” delegate, to represent the nation “on all questions relating to women and children.”

The individual chosen was Sydney feminist and playwright Marguerite Dale, who travelled to Geneva alongside three men.




Read more:
Hidden women of history: Flos Greig, Australia’s first female lawyer and early innovator


Female substitute delegates

From 1922 until 1939, every Australian League delegation included a female substitute (the League formally disbanded in 1946, but no General Assemblies were held during the war). Local women’s organisations made nominations. The federal government made the final selection.

The women chosen tended to be prominent feminists and social reformers, such as Bessie Rischbieth (1935), founding president of the Australian Federation of Women Voters; pioneering woman doctor and National Council of Women leader Roberta Jull (1929); and Melbourne Argus journalist Stella May Allan, known as “Vesta” (1924).

A 1938 portrait of Bessie Rischbieth.
National Library of Australia

These women were real-life versions of Edith Campbell Berry, the protagonist of Frank Moorhouse’s celebrated trilogy of novels Grand Days (1993), Dark Palace (2001) and Cold Light (2011), which depict an Australian woman’s diplomatic exploits in interwar Geneva.

Australia’s female delegates stayed at the Hotel de la Paix, overlooking Lake Geneva, and were swept up in a hectic schedule of meetings and social events. Expected to confine their activities to “women’s issues”, they were typically appointed to the fifth committee, concerned with humanitarian affairs.

Before an audience of international diplomats and global media, they spoke on issues such as the traffic in women and children and the welfare of adolescents.

One individual who deviated from “women’s issues” was 1927 substitute delegate Alice Moss, who became the first woman appointed to the League’s finance committee.




Read more:
Bringing Edith home: Frank Moorhouse’s Cold Light


Also notably outspoken was Ethel Osborne, who in 1932 put forward a motion to the political committee to increase women’s involvement as delegates and secretariat officials.

Roberta Jull.
Wikimedia Commons

After returning home, Australia’s female substitutes worked to mobilise public opinion in support of the League. At women’s groups and town halls nationwide, they delivered passionate entreaties about its importance. “If we were to allow it go out of existence, we would be stepping right back into the middle ages,” insisted 1936 substitute delegate Edith Waterworth.

Meanwhile, the campaign for a full woman delegate continued unsuccessfully. Indeed, for the life of the League, only men would represent Australia as full delegates.

Yet Australia was still one of the few countries to consistently include women in its League delegations.

There were only six women out of 177 total delegates at the 1922 General Assembly, a figure which climbed to 14 in 1930. As late as 1936, when 50 countries sent delegations to the League Assembly, there were still only a mere 12 women included.

Women at the table

The tide finally turned in 1943, when Australia began to recruit women into the diplomatic service. That year, Julia Drake-Brockman, Diana Hodgkinson and Bronnie Taylor were appointed the nation’s first female diplomatic cadets. In 1946, Drake-Brockman was named third secretary to the Australian delegation to the brand-new United Nations in New York.

At the UN, Drake-Brockman worked alongside feminist Jessie Street, who was instrumental in enshrining the principle of gender equality in the UN Charter.

Jessie Street.
NSW Parliamentary Register – Jessie Street National Women’s Library

In the UN era, Australian women’s diplomatic work would continue to be dogged by sexism — Drake-Brockman’s 1946 marriage prematurely ended her promising career – but they were permitted to represent the nation on ostensibly equal standing with men.

Yet it would take until 1974 for Australia to appoint its first female ambassador, and until 1997 to have a female Head of Mission to the UN.

And, importantly, aside from rare exceptions — such as Aboriginal activist Joyce Clague, who participated in a 1966 UNESCO conference — Australia’s Indigenous women and women of colour were not given opportunity to represent the nation on the global stage.

Only in 2018, when Julie-Ann Guivarra was appointed ambassador to Spain, was an Indigenous Australian finally included at the highest levels of international diplomacy.The Conversation

Yves Rees, David Myers Research Fellow, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Wauba Debar, an Indigenous swimmer from Tasmania who saved her captors



Though her brave acts were acknowledged after her death, Wauba Debar’s grave was later robbed in the name of “science”.
Tirin/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Megan Stronach, University of Technology Sydney and Daryl Adair, University of Technology Sydney

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains images and names of deceased people.

Aboriginal women and girls in lutruwita (Tasmania or Van Diemen’s Land) were superb swimmers and divers.

For eons, the palawa women of lutruwita had productive relationships with the sea and were expert hunters. Scant knowledge remains of these women, yet we can find fleeting glimpses of their aquatic skills.

Wauba Debar of Oyster Bay’s Paredarerme tribe was stolen as a teenager to become, according to Edward Cotton (a Quaker who settled on Tasmania’s East Coast), “a sealer’s slave and paramour”.

Servitude and rescue

Foreign sealers arrived on the Tasmanian coastlines in the late 18th century. The ensuing fur trade nearly destroyed the seal populations of Tasmania in a matter of two decades.

At the same time, life became extremely difficult for the female palawa population.

Slavery was still legal in the British Empire, and so the profitability of the sealing industry was underpinned by the servitude of palawa women.

Sporadic raids known as “gin-raiding” by sealers rendered the coastlines a place of constant danger for female palawa.

Pêche des sauvages du Cap de Diemen (Natives preparing a meal from the sea). Drawn by Jean Piron in 1817. Engraving by Jacques Louis Copia.
National Library of Australia



Read more:
Noted works: The Black War


Little is known of Wauba Debar other than tales of a daring rescue at sea. Though variations to her story can be found, it most frequently details her long swim and lifesaving efforts in stormy conditions. As one version tells it:

The boat went under; the two men were poor swimmers, and looked set to drown beneath the mountainous grey waves. Wauba could have left them to drown, and swim ashore on her own. But she didn’t.

First, she pulled her husband under her arm — the man who had first captured her — and dragged him back to shore, more than a kilometre away. Wauba next swam back out to the other man, and brought him in as well. The two sealers coughed and spluttered on the Bicheno beach, but they did not die. Wauba had saved them.

Death at sea

Sadly, no one was there to rescue Wauba when she needed it. Her demise during a sealing trip, was at the hands of Europeans.

According to a sailor’s account to Cotton, Wauba was one of the “gins” captured to take along on a whaleboat sailing from Hobart to the Straits Islands (Furneaux Group) as “expert hunters, fishers, and divers, as in most barbarous tribes, the slaves of the men”.

The sailing party camped at Wineglass Bay but woke to find the women and dogs had vanished. A group set off to pursue those who’d taken them. In his 1893 account, Cotton speculated in The Mercury newspaper on the likely cause of her death:

Wauba Debar had, I suppose, been captured in like manner … and possibly died of injuries sustained in the capture, which no doubt was not done very tenderly.

The crew interred Wauba at Bicheno, and marked her grave by a slab of wood with details inscribed.

Accounts differ as to when this actually took place. In 1893, elderly Bicheno residents said Wauba was buried 10 years before the date on the headstone, placing her death around 1822.

However, in his diary entry on 24 January 1816, Captain James Kelly described how he hauled up in Waub’s Boat Harbour due to the heavy afternoon swell. Considering the area was already named after her, it can be concluded that Wauba was likely buried before 1816.

Cotton’s report imagined her burial:

Wauba Debar did not live to be a mother of the tribe of half-bred sealers of the Straits, which became a sort of city or refuge of for bushrangers in aftertime … But she, poor soul was buried decently, perchance reverently, and I suppose other of the captured sisters would be present by the graveside on the shores of that silent nook near the beached boat.

Here lies Wauba

Wauba’s reputation was such that in 1855 the public of Bicheno decided to commemorate her by erecting a railing, headstone, and footstone (paid for by public subscription) at her grave, with “Waub” carved into it.

John Allen, who had been granted land nearby, donated ten shillings towards the cost of the gravestone – notwithstanding his involvement in a massacre at Milton Farm, Great Swanport, 30 years earlier.

The inscription reads:

Here lies Wauba Debar. A Female Aborigine of Van Diemen’s Land. Died June 1832. Aged 40 Years. This Stone is Erected by a few of her white friends.

Whether prompted by a sense of loss, guilt, or admiration, the community memorialised Wauba, and by extension, the original inhabitants of the land.

Yet by the late 1800s, European demand for Aboriginal physical remains for “scientific investigation” was high. In 1893, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery was determined to procure the remains of Wauba.

Waub’s Bay, Bicheno, is named after Wauba Debar.
Shutterstock

The prevailing ethnological theories believed that the study of Australian Aboriginal people, and particularly Indigenous Tasmanians, would reveal much about the earliest stages of human development and its progress.

Wauba’s grave was exhumed, put into a box, labelled “Native Currants”, and dispatched to Hobart.

The locals were outraged. An editorial in the Tasmanian Mail newspaper condemned the act as “a pure case of body snatching for the purposes of gain, and nothing else” that “the name of Science is outraged at being connected with”.

Snowdrops bloom

Wauba’s memorial is the only known gravestone erected to a Tasmanian Aboriginal person during the 19th century, and she is the only palawa woman known to have been buried and commemorated by non-Indigenous locals.

In 2014, Olympic swimmer and Bicheno resident Shane Gould dedicated a fundraising swim to Wauba Debar’s swimming abilities and memory.

The European styled memorial serves as a reminder of the more turbulent interactions between the two peoples that shaped Tasmania’s history from the 1800s onwards.

Wauba’s empty grave is Tasmania’s smallest State Reserve. Her remains were returned to the Tasmanian Indigenous community in 1985. Snowdrops are said to bloom around the grave every spring.The Conversation

Megan Stronach, Post Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Technology Sydney and Daryl Adair, Associate Professor of Sport Management, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Neaera, the Athenian child slave raised to be a courtesan



Gustave Boulanger, The Slave Market, 1886.
Wikimedia Commons

Marguerite Johnson, University of Newcastle

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

The ancient worlds of Greece and Rome have perhaps never been as popular as they presently are. There are numerous television series and one-off
documentaries covering both “big picture” perspectives and stories of ordinary people.

Neaera was a woman from fourth century BCE Athens whose life is significant and sorrowful – worthy to be remembered – but may never feature in a glossy biopic.

Possibly born in Corinth, a place where she lived from at least a young age, Neaera was raised by a brothel-keeper by the name of Nicarete.

Her predicament was the result of her being enslaved to Nicarete. While we don’t know the reason for this, we do know that foundlings were common in antiquity. The parents of baby Neaera, for whatever reason, left her to fate – to die by exposure or be collected by a stranger.

From a young age, Neaera was trained by Nicarete for the life of a hetaira (a Classical Greek term for “courtesan”). It was Nicarete who also named her, giving her a typical courtesan title: “Neaera” meaning “Fresh One”.

Ancient sources reveal Naeara’s life in the brothel. In a legal speech by the Athenian politician and forensic orator, Apollodorus, the following description is provided:

There were seven young girls who were purchased when they were small children by Nicarete … She had the talent to recognise the potential beauty of little girls and knew how to raise them and educate them with expertise – for it was from this that she had made a profession and from this came her livelihood.

She called them ‘daughters’ so that, by displaying them as freeborn, she could obtain the highest prices from the men wishing to have intercourse with them. After that, when she had enjoyed the profit from their youth, she sold every single one of them …

The occasion for the passage from Apollodorus is a court case that was brought against Neaera in approximately 343 BCE. Neaera was around 50-years-old by the time of her prosecution, which took place in Athens.




Read more:
The grim reality of the brothels of Pompeii


Trafficking and abuse

The circumstances of her trial are complicated, involving the buying, selling, trafficking and abuse of Neaera from a very young age.

Piecing together the evidence from Apollodorus’ prosecution speech, which has come down to us with the title, “Against Neaera”, it transpires that two of her clients, who shared joint ownership of her, allowed her to buy her freedom around 376 BCE.

Afterwards, she moved to Athens with one Phrynion, but his brutal treatment of her saw Neaera leave for Megara, where circumstances caused her to return to sex work.

A man and a prostitute reclining on a bench during a banquet; Tondo from an Attic red-figure kylix, circa 490 BC.
Wikimedia Commons

Further intrigues involving men and sex work saw Neaera eventually face trial on the charge of falsely representing herself as a free Athenian woman by pretending to be married to a citizen.

The charge of fraud was based on the law that a foreigner could not live as a common law “spouse” to a freeborn Athenian. The fact that Neaera also had three children, a daughter by the name of Phano, and two sons, further complicated the trial and its range of legal entanglements.

While we never discover the outcome of the trial, nor what happened to Neaera, the speech of the prosecutor remains, and reveals much about her life. Unfortunately, the speech of the defence is lost.

We do know, however, that the man with whom Neaera cohabitated, Stephanus, delivered the defence. Of course, he was not only defending Neaera – he was defending himself! Should Neaera have been found guilty, Stephanus
would have forfeited his citizenship and the rights that attended it.

Stephanus had a history of legal disputes with the prosecutor, Apollodorus. He also had a history of being in trouble with the law. For example, he had illegally married off Phano – not once, but twice – to Athenian citizens. Shady “get rich quick” schemes motivated such activities, and it seems that Stephanus was adept at using both his “wife” and his “daughter’ for bartering and personal profit.

Another accusation revealed during the trial alleged that Stephanus
arranged for Neaera to lure men to his house, engage them in sex, and then bribe them. And while Apollodorus provides no evidence for such a scam ever having taken place, judging by Stephanus’ track-record, it does not seem implausible.




Read more:
Friday essay: the myth of the ancient Greek ‘gay utopia’


Remembering Neaera

Reading through the long, complex and damnatory speech of Apollodorus, we risk losing sight of the woman at the centre of it. Caught amid petty politics, sex scandals, and personal vendettas is a woman who becomes peripheral to the machismo being played out in court.

Yet, somewhat ironically, this is the only ancient source we have that records not only Neaera and the life she was forced to lead – but the life of a hetaira from infancy, girlhood, middle-age and, ultimately, past her “use by” date.

Had she not been taken to court as part of the factional fighting of ancient Athens, had she not had her reputation annihilated so publicly, we would have never known about Neaera.

Were it not for Apollodorus and his ancient version of “slut-shaming”, Neaera’s story would have been lost.

But it hasn’t been lost. Somewhere, amid the male rhetoric, her story endures. Unfortunately, her voice is not preserved. All we can read in the speech, “Against Neaera” are the voices of men; her prosecutor and the witnesses he calls to the stand.

Ironically, these testimonies and accusations – so casually introduced in ancient Athens, but received so differently today – emphasise the inhumanity of the sex trade in an antiquity too often and too unthinkingly valorised.

The document known as “Against Neaera” is the only record we have of this (almost) hidden woman. It prompts us to remember. And it’s important to remember Neaera.The Conversation

Marguerite Johnson, Professor of Classics, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Frances Levvy, Australia’s quietly radical early animal rights campaigner



Elephants destined for Wirths’ circus on a ship’s deck circa 1925. Early last century, Frances Levvy asked school students to write an essay on whether the exhibition of wild animals in travelling menageries was consistent with humanity.
By Sam Hood ca. 1925-ca. 1945, State Library of NSW

Elaine Stratford, University of Tasmania

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

We are all touched by relationships with animals — as domestic and working companions, wild inspirations, threats, or pests.

Some of us may know about the enduring worth of organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Fewer of us may know about the 19th century foundations for animal advocacy among ordinary women beginning, more often, to find their voice in the public sphere.

The life of Frances Deborah Levvy (14 November 1831–29 November 1924) is worth revisiting because her ethical, political, and journalistic contributions speak to our current concerns for the more-than-human world.




Read more:
Hidden women of history: Flos Greig, Australia’s first female lawyer and early innovator


A mainstay of the New South Wales’ branch of the Women’s Society for the Protection of Animals, Frances, with her sister Emma Clarke, founded Australia’s first Bands of Mercy. Membership of the Bands required pledging on entry:

I promise to protect all animals from ill-treatment with all my power. When I am compelled to take the life of any creature, I will spare all needless pain.

The Bands of Mercy were based on the Bands of Hope, formed in the United Kingdom to support the temperance movement and, like them, were formal voluntary organisations in communities. Founded in 1875, they helped young people learn about and model the humane treatment of animals, coming under the RSPCA from 1882, the same year they were introduced into the United States. It was Levvy who then introduced Bands of Mercy in Australia in the mid-1880s, growing the membership from 15 to over 20,000 people over her life.

Circular Quay harbour, Sydney, Australia, undated.
Stock photo ID: 544124516, uploaded 4 July 2016

Born in Penrith, Frances was one of four children of Barnett and Sarah Levey, the former a watch-maker and theatre director, both from London. When Levey died in 1837, his widow converted from Judaism to Christianity, which appears to have shaped Frances’s moral and religious outlook. On their mother’s death Frances and her sister Emma adopted the surname Levvy. After moving to Newtown in Sydney in 1874 with her sister, Frances later went to Waverley where she lived – single and focused on her mission – until her death in 1924.

Clues to what motivated Levvy’s lifelong dedication to the humane movement are found in The Daily Telegraph of Tuesday 30 January 1906. There, the reporter describes Levvy in ways that map onto ideas emergent at the time that women’s apparently natural propensity to nurture in the private sphere could spill into the public arena and contribute to social progress.

Levvy is painted as having:

a gentle, persuasive manner … intensely in earnest in her whole-hearted and disinterested wish to save our dumb [sic] friends from ill-treatment … the right woman in the right place. It is so eminently a woman’s work which she has undertaken, to inculcate gentleness and kindness in the hearts of the children of our city …

When asked by the reporter if she thought animals have souls, Levvy replied:

It seems to me that it is not at all improbable. There is an evident wish to believe it.

‘Loving friend of dumb animals’

Over several decades, Levvy effectively harnessed the printed word’s power to influence how animals were treated. She developed and edited a monthly periodical, The Band of Mercy and Humane Journal (1887–1923), which inspired offshoots such as The Band of Mercy Advocate (1887–1891).

The first edition of the Band of Mercy Advocate.
to come

Levvy was equally adept at building community networks, and coalitions and defying moral strictures regarding the public conduct expected of “ladies”. As one report on her work (replete with deeply gendered and class-based assumptions) noted:

The draymen and vanmen at the wharves and the drivers at the cab stands are regularly visited by this loving friend of dumb animals, from whom they receive copies of the Band of Mercy journal. This paves the way for a little general conversation on the subject of kindness to animals, and then some particular instance is … [introduced]; a horse has gone lame or has a sore shoulder, which should be dressed with a decoction of tannin — or the flies are stinging and worrying, and it is suggested that … pennyroyal added to a pint of olive oil should be passed lightly over the horses to secure their immunity from this pest.

A horse carriage with rider, Sydney, Australia, 1924.
Stock photo ID: 1065147264, uploaded 8 November 2018

It has been suggested that Levvy’s “greatest capacity was for writing” and my own research shows that an astute use of the periodical press ensured her work was known and supported. The editors of Boston’s The Woman’s Journal, wrote glowingly of her work in 1888, noting her journal provided “a place of record for the good deeds done”. In 1906, it described the journal as having “the distinction of being the first newspaper of the kind in Australia”.

The power of the press is worth stressing here, because it underpinned growing freedoms of speech and capacities to challenge the status quo that Levvy tapped into. Debates in the press around animal protection touched on fashion (and its relationship to prescriptive forms of femininity and consumerism) and sport (with its association with betting).

S.T. Gill, Kangaroo Hunting, The Death, from his Australian Sketchbook (1865).
National Library of Australia

Seeing young people as agents of change

In her writing and activism, Levvy often turned to children and, through them, to women — whose power she thought should extend from private to public spheres.

The 1906 report in The Daily Telegraph also describes how she gave lessons on animal protection at schools. She educated boys about the most humane method of transit of stock by rail, or training a colt to harness and saddle. And she set the following essay topics for mixed sex, upper level classes:

Does civilisation in any way depend on possession of animals? Give reasons, state requirements, and value of poultry-keeping, incubator, food, incidental diseases. Is it suitable work for women and girls? Bee-keeping: Requirements and value. Hives, honey-producing flowers, food in winter, etc. Is it suitable work for women and girls? Is the exhibition of wild animals in travelling menageries consistent with humanity? Give your reasons.

Six Wirths’ Circus elephants with their attendants and a Shetland pony cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of a publicity stunt in 1932.
Wikimedia Commons

Levvy, herself, reflected in 1906 (in relation to her work on equine welfare):

The difference between now and twenty years ago … is most marked. It is hardly ever now that one sees a sore-backed, lame, miserable-looking horse in the streets. Look at the cab horses and cart horses, what fine, well-kept animals they are.

After Levvy’s death on 24 November 1924, the former NSW Minister for Education, Joseph Carruthers, paid tribute to her and announced a school essay competition in her name. Internationally, the Bands of Mercy began to lose momentum between the world wars, and languished after 1945. Although Peter Chen has provided a detailed time-line of developments in animal welfare in Australia, he does not record a date for when they ceased here.

Levvy was of her time. She was, for example, deeply immersed in the progressive, democratising, and evangelical impulses that marked the 19th century.

But she was, I think, also ahead of her time, being among those women who understood and used the power of the press for socially transformative ends, and who recognised that young people are not citizens in waiting but active and influential agents for change.

At a time when the treatment of both animals and children was often questionable, and often based on narrow ideas of them as property, her actions and ideas were quietly radical and highly effective.The Conversation

Elaine Stratford, Professor, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Leila Waddell, Australian violinist, philosopher of magic and fearless rebel



Leila Waddell performing during the Rites of Eleusis.

Alice Gorman, Flinders University

Leila Waddell (1880-1932) was a country girl from Bathurst, NSW, who entered the world stage as an acclaimed violinist – and left it having influenced magical practice into the 21st century.

Her early life focused on music. She studied violin and joined the Sydney music scene, teaching genteel girls at some of Sydney’s most prestigious schools. Her concert performances earned her a devoted following. She favoured composers such as Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps, and soon gained a reputation as one of Australia’s leading violinists.

Waddell left Australia as part of a touring orchestra in 1908, and found herself in London. Here she was introduced to New Zealand author (and cellist) Katherine Mansfield at a concert. They became firm friends, and regulars in a Bohemian society centred around the Cafe Royal.

As well as musicians, poets and artists, the cafe attracted members of London’s magical orders. It was likely here that Wadell first met the magician Aleister Crowley, who liked to distribute samples of the hallucinogenic drug peyote at parties. The meeting opened the door into another world.

Sex, drugs and violins

Within a short time Waddell and Crowley became lovers. Waddell began studying magic as part of Crowley’s order, the A .‘.A .’. (Astrum Argentum), in which she was known as Sister Agatha. Crowley, however, called her Laylah, his Scarlet Woman. In his magical universe, the role of the Scarlet Woman was a sort of anti-Virgin Mary who transgressed the boundaries of feminine virtue by wallowing in excess.

A photo of Leila Waddell on the cover of Crowley’s The Book of Lies.
Wikimedia Commons

Waddell is often relegated to a character in Crowley’s life. But if we assess her life on its own terms, we see a brilliant musician, a philosopher of magic, and a rebel who was unafraid to take risks and be true to herself.

Crowley was experimenting with using sex in rituals. He was interested in how heightened emotions could be harnessed for magical outcomes, such as achieving transcendental states or summoning otherworldly beings.

The moment of orgasm, he believed, focused the magician’s will and increased their power. As a poet and playwright, Crowley was also exploring rituals as theatrical performances, where the audience were co-practitioners.

Crowley was entranced by Waddell’s musical prowess. Together, they began devising magical rituals which combined music, poetry and dance. The idea came about during a weekend at the house of Crowley’s disciple Guy Marston (who believed that married English women could be induced to masturbate by the sound of tom-tom drums).

Waddell’s extensive experience as a performer was a key part of bringing this idea to fruition. The result was the Rites of Eleusis: musical theatre redefining magic for the new era of modernism

Democratising ecstasy

The Rites had seven parts, each associated with a planet or celestial body. Waddell composed original music for them, as well as drawing on her favourite composers. The purpose was to enable the audience to attain spiritual ecstasy.

Digital version of Waddell’s composition Thelema – a Tone Testament, by Phil Legard.

The first performances were tested before small groups, enhanced by drug-laced “libations”. A journalist, describing Waddell’s playing, wrote:

Once again the figure took the violin, and played […] so beautifully, so gracefully, and with such intense feeling, that in very deed most of us experienced that Ecstasy which Crowley so earnestly seeks.

In October 1910, the Rites were ready for the public. The venue was Caxton Hall in London. The audience was encouraged to dress in the appropriate colour for each Rite, such as violet for Jupiter, russet for Mars.

Waddell played her violin, Crowley’s disciple Victor Neuburg danced, and Crowley intoned his turgid paeans to the god Pan. The hall was in semi-darkness. The performances were filled with sexual symbolism, but no sex magic took place on stage.

The critics were not very kind to the public Rites of Eleusis, but most agreed Waddell’s virtuosity was a highlight.

‘Consciousness exalted into music’

The Great Beast and the Scarlet Woman had a prolific creative life. Both contributed to The Equinox, a publication devoted to Crowley’s circle. Other contributors included Katherine Mansfield, Katherine Susannah Pritchard and the Irish writer Frank Harris.

After the Rites of Eleusis, Crowley embarked on writing a book which many consider his most significant work. Magick: Liber ABA, Book 4 was a collaborative effort between Crowley, A.‘.A.’. member Mary Desti, and Waddell. In Part III, they reflected on the lessons learnt from the Rites of Eleusis.

They concluded that an audience of initiates would more effectively channel magical power than the general public. As for the music, it should be composed specifically for the ritual – indicating that Waddell’s own compositions had hit the mark. The book was published in The Equinox in 1912.

Waddell booked a concert tour to the US. She had planned to buy her passage on the ill-fated Titanic, but just missed out on a ticket. Her narrow escape was widely reported in Australian newspapers. After completing this engagement, she returned to Europe to tour with the Ragged Ragtime Girls, a violin group managed by Crowley. She continued her magical studies in the Ordo Templi Orientis, an order with a strong focus on sex magic.

Revolution

The First World War interrupted the idyll of sex, magic and music. Ireland was under British rule, and many Irish nationalists saw the war as an opportunity to fight for independence. As the daughter of Irish famine refugees, Waddell was sympathetic. In New York she joined a secret revolutionary group under the name of “L. Bathurst”.

Crowley arrived in New York in 1914, purportedly on a mission to discredit Germany by spreading absurd propaganda. This was the impetus for an extraordinary stunt.

At dawn on the morning of 3 July 1915, Waddell, Crowley and a party of Irish revolutionaries sailed down the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty, with the intention of declaring Irish independence and war on England.

But the guards wouldn’t let them land. Crowley made an impassioned speech, which no-one could hear from the prow of the boat, then tore up his passport and threw it in the river. Waddell played the rebel anthem The Wearing of the Green to accompany the Declaration of Independence.

The following year the Easter Rising, an armed rebellion which aimed to overthrow English rule in Ireland, was brutally suppressed in Dublin.

Aleister Crowley in the garments of the Ordo Templi Orientis in 1916.
Wikimedia Commons

Crowley left New York for the West Coast, while Waddell continued to tour, write and socialise. She was friends with writers like Rebecca West and Theodore Dreiser, and regularly attended salons held by Frank Harris, who had not yet attained notoriety as the author of the sexually explicit My Life and Loves.

While touring US cities, she played lunch time concerts in factories, organised by the YMCA. The venues were barns, sheds, and gardens, and the audiences were mostly male migrant workers. The men sang along with the arias and would give her wildflower posies. She loved this experience and considered it the greatest work of her career.

Already a seasoned writer, Waddell came to wider notice with her memoir of Katherine Mansfield, who died in 1923. Details are murky, but it seems this led to contracts for a novel and a book of short stories with a London publisher. Crowley, meanwhile, had set up a magical Abbey in Sicily with his new Scarlet Woman. It was time to move on.

Return to the Antipodes

In 1924 Waddell returned to Australia as her father was very ill. The prodigal violinist was greeted enthusiastically, and quickly became immersed in concerts, touring, and radio appearances. She resumed her earlier career teaching violin to affluent schoolgirls. If Sydney society remembered her association with Crowley, dubbed “the wickedest man in the world” by the press, it did not dim their eagerness for her music.

However, soon she became ill herself from uterine cancer. Her books were never finished. She died in 1932 and was buried next to her parents in Sydney.

The Rites of Eleusis are still performed today by Crowleyites across the world, including the Ordo Templi Orientis in Australia. In 2015, Wadell was celebrated as one of Bathurst’s favourite daughters at the town’s 200th anniversary. From country to city to world and other-world, her life was truly a magical journey.The Conversation

Alice Gorman, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Space Studies, Flinders University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


NZ was first to grant women the vote in 1893, but then took 26 years to let them stand for parliament



After winning the right to vote in 1893, New Zealand’s suffragists kept up the battle, but the unity found in rallying around the major cause had receded.
Jim Henderson/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

Katie Pickles

Today marks the passing of the much celebrated 1893 Electoral Act, 126 years ago, which made New Zealand the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote.

But it would take 26 years before the often twinned step of allowing women to stand for parliament happened. On October 29, it will be a century since the passing of the 1919 Women’s Parliamentary Rights Act, which opened the way for women to enter politics.

Women’s suffrage and women’s right to stand for parliament are natural companions, two sides of the same coin. It would be fair to assume both happened at the same time.

Early women’s suffrage bills included women standing for parliament. But, in the hope of success, the right was omitted from the third and successful 1893 bill. Suffragists didn’t want to risk women standing for parliament sinking the bill.

The leader of the suffrage movement, Kate Sheppard, reluctantly accepted the omission and expected that the right would follow soon afterwards. But that didn’t happen.




Read more:
Why New Zealand was the first country where women won the right to vote


Post-vote agitation

After women won suffrage, agitation for several egalitarian causes, including women in parliament, continued. The Women’s Christian Temperance Movement (WCTU) and, from 1896, the National Council of Women (NCW) both called for the bar to be removed.

Women including Kate Sheppard, Margaret Sievwright, Stella Henderson and Sarah Saunders Page kept up the battle. But the unity found in rallying around the major women’s suffrage cause was lacking and the heady and energetic climate of 1893 had receded.

From 1894 to 1900, sympathetic male politicians from across the political spectrum presented eight separate bills. Supportive conservatives emphasised the “unique maternal influence” that women would bring to parliament. Conservative MP Alfred Newman argued that New Zealand must retain its world-leading reputation for social legislation, but he downplayed the significance. He predicted that even if women were allowed to stand for parliament, few would be interested and even fewer would be elected.

Left-leaning supportive MPs George Russell and Tommy Taylor saw the matter as one of extending women’s rights and the next logical step towards societal equality. But contemplating women in the House was a step too far and all attempts failed.

Enduring prejudice

The failure in the pre-war years was largely because any support for women in parliament was outweighed by enduring prejudice against their direct participation in politics.

At the beginning of the new century, Prime Minister Richard Seddon was well aware of public opinion being either indifferent to or against women in parliament. A new generation of women with professional careers who might stand for parliament, if allowed, comprised a small minority.

Much to the chagrin of supporters, New Zealand began to lag behind other countries. Australia simultaneously granted women the right to vote and stand for parliament in 1902 at the federal level, with the exception of Aboriginal women in some states.

Women in Finland were able to both vote and stand for election from 1906, as part of reforms following unrest. In 1907, 19 women were elected to the new Finnish parliament.

The game changer: the first world war

Importantly, during the first world war, women’s status improved rapidly and this overrode previous prejudices. Women became essential and valued citizens in the war effort. Most contributed from their homes, volunteering their domestic skills, while increasing numbers entered the public sphere as nurses, factory and public sector workers.

Ellen Melville became an Auckland city councillor in 1913. Ada Wells was elected to the Christchurch City Council in 1917. Women proved their worth in keeping the home fires burning while men were away fighting.

In 1918, British women, with some conditions, were enfranchised and allowed to stand for parliament. Canada’s federal government also gave most of its women both the right to vote and stand for parliament.




Read more:
100 years since women won the right to be MPs – what it was like for the pioneers


Late in 1918, MP James McCombs, the New Zealand Labour Party’s first president and long-time supporter of women’s rights, opportunistically included women standing for parliament in a legislative council amendment bill. It was unsuccessful, mostly due to technicalities, and Prime Minister Bill Massey promised to pursue the matter.

Disappointed feminist advocate Jessie Mackay pointed to women’s service during the war and the recent influenza epidemic and shamed New Zealand for failing to keep up with international developments.

Women’s wartime work, renewed feminist activism and male parliamentary support combined to make the 1919 act a foregone conclusion. Introducing the bill, Massey said he did not doubt it would pass because it was important to keep up with Britain. The opposition leader, Joseph Ward, thought war had changed what was due to women, and Labour Party leader Harry Holland pushed women’s role as moral citizens.

The Legislative Council (upper house) held out and women had to wait until 1941 for the right to be appointed there. It took until 1933 for the first woman, Elizabeth McCombs, to be elected to parliament. The belief that a woman’s place was in the home and not parliament, the bastion of masculine power, endured.

Between 1935 and 1975, only 14 women were elected to parliament, compared to 298 men. It was not until the advent of a second wave of feminism and the introduction of proportional representation in 1996 that numbers of women in the house began to increase.The Conversation

Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury and current Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi James Cook Research Fellow

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Marau Ta’aroa, the Sydney-schooled ‘last Queen of Tahiti’


Nicholas Hoare, Australian National University

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

From Tongan Princes to the daughters of Sāmoan political leaders, elite Australian schools have long been considered desirable locations for the children of high-ranking Pacific families. One such student was a young Tahitian named Joanna Marau Ta‘aroa who attended Sydney Ladies’ College from 1869 to 1873.

While easily “mistaken for a Spaniard” on the streets of downtown Sydney, the young Marau was in fact the second youngest daughter of an aristocratic Tahitian mother, Ari‘i Taimai, and a wealthy Englishman of Jewish descent, Alexander Salmon. (The pair, who had married in 1842, had nine children, all of whom enjoyed a cosmopolitan upbringing, speaking English and being educated overseas.)

Although little is known about her time in Sydney, other than an abiding memory of ice-cold baths and unpleasant Australian mutton, Marau’s Australian education was cut short at the age of 14 when she was summoned home to marry Prince Ari‘i-aue. Her marriage to the alcoholic future king, who was some 22 years her senior, saw her written into the history books as “the last Queen of Tahiti”.

An unhappy match

By all accounts, Marau’s royal wedding was a spectacular affair, with a fusion of Polynesian and European style festivities continuing across Papeete, the Tahitian capital, for two days. However, unlike that of her parents, her marriage was far from a love match.

It was a strategic alliance between the Pōmare family – who had always struggled to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Tahitian public – and her mother’s Teva dynasty, who were more readily recognised as the true holders of chiefly power and prestige.

But in Marau’s words, her husband’s behaviour “quickly became impossible to tolerate”. Allegedly suffering from syphilis, tuberculosis and occasionally pneumonia, the prince’s predilection for rum before noon was legendary.

Despite the kindness shown to her by his mother Queen Pōmare IV, palace life was far from happy for Marau. She found herself spending more and more time at her mother’s home in Papara, where she occupied herself reading, learning Tahitian embroidery and unravelling the secrets of her family’s land.

After the death of the Queen, she was briefly encouraged to return to her prince’s side to ascend the throne in September 1877. However, less than two years later, the now-Queen Marau accepted a royal pension of 300 francs per month and moved out permanently.

Queen Marau, 1879, photographer unknown.
Collection du Musée de Tahiti et des îles – Te Fare Manaha

Children shut out

While the pair did not officially divorce until January 1888, from 1879 onward they would appear together only at official ceremonies where neither would talk to the other. However, Marau would not let these personal circumstances get in the way of living a life befitting of royalty.

In 1884 she took to Europe – without the King’s blessing – where she was “received and celebrated all over”, often finding herself in homes and palaces of elite Parisian families. Wearing old-style Tahitian dresses, Marau would attend the theatre most nights, where she revelled in the limelight as any 25-year-old guest of honour would do.

Meanwhile, back in Tahiti, her husband felt that press reports of his wife’s reception by the French political class “offended our dignity and insulted us as people”. This was perhaps a little rich coming from somebody who just four years earlier had ceded sovereignty over Tahiti and its dependencies to the French for a sizeable pension in return. (Famed American historian Henry Adams would write that he “now gets drunk on the proceeds, $12,000 a year”.)

For Queen Marau, the tip of the iceberg was the King’s refusal to recognise her two daughters, Teri‘i (born in 1879) and Takau (born in 1887), as his own.

Though they eventually took the Pōmare name – the third, Ernest, who arrived several months after the divorce proceedings, was never officially recognised – all three children were shut out of the royal inheritance. After Pōmare V’s refusal to recognise the third child, Marau famously snapped back that none of them belonged to him anyway.

‘True old-goldishness’

In the months preceding the death of Pomare V in June 1891, Queen Marau played host to Henry Adams and his artist-friend John La Farge. Bored and growing increasingly critical of colonial Papeete, the pair’s fortunes changed upon meeting Marau and her brother Tati Salmon at Papara. Of Marau, Adams wrote:

If she was once handsome, certainly her beauty is not what attracts men now. What she has is a face strongly marked and decidedly intelligent, with a sub-expression of recklessness, or true old-goldishness … One feels the hundred generations of chiefs who are in her, without one commoner except the late Salmon, her deceased parent.

Finding her “still showy, very intelligent, musical, deep in native legends and history, and quite energetic”, Marau became the perfect conduit between Adams and her ageing mother. In turn, this enabled the pair to work on the production of the Memoirs of Arii Tamai (1901). A history of pre-colonial Tahiti from the perspective of the Teva family, it is now regarded as a canonical text in Tahitian ethnography.

A dominant public figure

With most scholars tending to lose interest in Marau’s life at this point, it would be tempting to end our story here with the Queen living out the rest of her years “hard-up” on a measly government pension.

But the reality was that she remained a dominant public figure until her death in February 1935.

When massive phosphate deposits were discovered on the nearby island of Makatea in 1907, Marau frustrated the progress of an Anglo-French consortium by using her influence to sign contracts with local landowners, despite knowing she lacked the means to exploit the mineral herself.

While the intervention netted her a tidy payment of 75,000 francs and an ongoing royalty of 37 and a half centimes per ton of phosphate extracted, victory was even sweeter as the man behind the phosphate operation was her ex-husband’s lawyer, Auguste Goupil, chief architect of the plan to write her children out of their royal inheritance.

Finally, just as the stories of Ari‘i Taimai were collected and written down by a younger, energetic Marau, her own daughter Takau did the same for her mother in her dotage (eventually published in 1971 as Memoires de Marau Taaroa). As modern and tumultuous as her life may have been, the Memoires also portrays someone who never lost her grounding in ancient Tahitian culture.

Nothing reflects this better than Marau’s grand tomb at Uranie cemetery just outside of Papeete. Her tomb, taking the form of the grand Teva-family marae, Mahaiatea, it is a tribute to one of Tahiti’s greatest cultural and spiritual monuments.

Tomb of Queen Marau, Uranie Cemetery, Tahiti.
Photo by Nicholas Hoare, 2018

This monument to the Tahitian god ‘Oro, consecrated by the famous Tupaia between 1766-8, had been destroyed in 1865 by a European planter in order to construct a bridge. The bridge itself was soon washed away by flood.The Conversation

Nicholas Hoare, PhD Candidate in Pacific History, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Eleanor Anne Ormerod, the self taught agricultural entomologist who tasted a live newt



Wikimedia Commons

Tanya Latty, University of Sydney

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

Insects have always been intimately connected with agriculture. Pest insects can cause tremendous damage, while helpful insects like pollinators and predators provide free services. The relatively young field of agricultural entomology uses knowledge of insect ecology and behaviour to help farmers protect their crops.

One of the most influential agricultural entomologists in history was an insatiably curious and fiercely independent woman named Eleanor Anne Ormerod. Although she lacked formal scientific training, Ormerod would eventually be hailed as the “Protectress of British Agriculture”.

Eleanor was born in 1828 to a wealthy British family. She did not attend school and was instead tutored by her mother on subjects thought to increase her marriageability: languages, drawing and music.

Like most modern entomologists, Eleanor’s interest in insects started when she was a child. In her autobiography, she tells of how she once spent hours observing water bugs swimming in a small glass. When one of the insects was injured, it was immediately consumed by the others.

Shocked, Eleanor hurried to tell her father about what she had seen but he dismissed her observations. Eleanor writes that while her family tolerated her interest in science, they were not particularly supportive of it.

Securing an advantageous marriage was supposed to be the primary goal of wealthy young women in Eleanor’s day. But her father was reclusive and disliked socialising; as a result, the family didn’t have the social connections needed to secure marriages for the children. Of Ormerod’s three sisters, none would marry.

Ormerod as a young woman.
Wikimedia Commons

The Ormerod daughters were relatively fortunate; their father gave them enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Their status as wealthy unmarried women gave them the freedom to pursue their interests free from domestic responsibilities and the demands of husbands or fathers. For Eleanor, this meant time to indulge her scientific curiosity.

Foaming at the mouth

Ormerod’s first scientific publication was about the poisonous secretions of the Triton newt. After testing the poison’s effects on an unfortunate cat, she decided to test it on herself by putting the tail of a live newt into her mouth. The unpleasant effects – which included foaming at the mouth, oral convulsions and a headache – were all carefully described in her paper.

A Triton newt.
Wikimedia Commons

Omerod’s first foray into agricultural entomology came in 1868, when the Royal Horticultural Society asked for help creating a collection of insects both helpful and harmful to British agriculture. She enthusiastically answered the call and spent the next decade collecting and identifying insects on the society’s behalf.

In the process, she developed specialist skills in insect identification, behaviour and ecology.




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During her insect-collecting trips, Ormerod spoke with farmers who told her of their many and varied pest problems. She realised that farmers were in need of science-based advice for protecting their crops from insect pests.

Yet most professional entomologists of the time were focused on the collection and classification of insects; they had little interest in applying their knowledge to agriculture. Ormerod decided to fill the vacant role of “agricultural entomologist” herself.

In 1877, Ormerod self-published the first of what was to become a series of 22 annual reports that provided guidelines for the control of insect pests in a variety of crops. Each pest was described in detail including particulars of its appearance, behaviour and ecology. The reports were aimed at farmers and were written in an easy-to-read style.

An early form of crowdsourcing

Ormerod wanted to create a resource that would help farmers all over Britain. She quickly realised this task would require more information than she could possibly collect on her own. So Ormerod turned to an early version of crowdsourcing to obtain data.

She circulated questionnaires throughout the countryside asking farmers about the pests they observed, and the pest control remedies they had tried.

Whenever possible, she conducted experiments or made observations to confirm information she received from her network of farmers. Each of her reports combined her own work with that of the farmers and labourers she corresponded with. The resulting reports cemented Ormerod’s reputation.

Ormerod was invited to give lectures at colleges and institutes throughout Britain. She lent her expertise to pest problems in places as far afield as New Zealand, the West Indies and South Africa.

In recognition of her service, she was awarded an honorary law degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1900 – the first women in the university’s history to receive the honour. Such was her fame that acclaimed author Virginia Woolf later wrote a fictionalised account of Ormerod’s life called Miss Ormerod.

Virginia Woolf wrote a book about Ormerod.
Wikimedia Commons

While she undoubtedly contributed to the rise of agricultural entomology as a scientific field, Ormerod’s legacy is complicated by her vocal support of a dangerous insecticide known as Paris Green. Paris Green was an arsenic-derived compound initially used as a paint (hence the name).

Although Paris Green was used extensively in North America, it was relatively unheard of in Britain. Ormerod made it her mission to introduce this new advance to British farmers. So strongly did she believe in its crop-saving power, she joked about wanting the words, “She brought Paris Green to Britain,” engraved on her tombstone.

A tin of Paris Green paint.
Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, Paris Green is a “broad spectrum” insecticide that kills most insects, including pollinators and predators. The loss of predators in the crop ecosystem gives free rein to pests, creating a vicious cycle of dependence on chemical insecticides.

Paris Green also has serious human health impacts, some of which were recognised even in Ormerod’s day. The fact that arsenic was a common ingredient in all manner of products – including medicines – may partly explain why Ormerod seems to have underestimated the danger of Paris Green to human and environmental health.

Ormerod’s steadfast promotion of Paris Green seems naïve in retrospect. But the late 1800’s was a time of tremendous optimism about the power of science to solve the world’s problems.

Paris Green and other insecticides allowed farmers to cheaply and effectively protect their crops – and thus their livelihoods. In fact, less than 50 years after Ormerod’s death, chemist Paul Muller won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of the infamous (and environmentally catastrophic) insecticide DDT. When viewed in light of the “pesticide optimism” of her time, Ormerod’s enthusiasm about Paris Green is easier to understand.

Interestingly, Ormerod wasn’t just an insecticide evangelist. Her reports gave recommendations for a variety of pest control methods such as the use of exclusion nets and the manual removal of pests. These and other environmentally friendly techniques now form the core of modern “integrated pest management”, the gold standard for effective and sustainable pest control.

Eleanor Ormerod was devoted to the cause of protecting agriculture at a time when few “serious” entomologists were interested in applying their knowledge to agriculture. She recognised that progress in agricultural entomology could only happen when entomologists worked in close partnership with farmers.

She continued working and lecturing to within weeks of her death in 1901; in all of her years of service, she was never paid.The Conversation

Tanya Latty, Senior Lecturer, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Isabel Flick, the tenacious campaigner who fought segregation in Australia



Isabel, on left, when she was working for Mangankali Housing Company, talking to politicians and/or bureaucrats on the Wollai, the Aboriginal reserve at Collarenebri.
Family collection, provided to author.

Heather Goodall, University of Technology Sydney

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

Like many other Aboriginal kids in 1938, Isabel Flick was denied an education because she was “too black” to be allowed into the segregated public school.

Her father, a returned serviceman, was disrespected by the nation he had fought for. She and her siblings faced the threat of being taken from their family. She was later called a “trouble maker” for demanding justice for Aboriginal women and children and Aboriginal rights to land.

Isabel pictured around 1980.
Heather Goodall

Despite the formidable racism of rural Australia, Isabel, a Gamilaraay and Bigambul woman living in Collarenebri, did not give up on the bush. She returned again and again to the upper Darling River, demanding land for Aboriginal people (who in that area called themselves Murries) and protection of the river from the grazing and cotton industries.

It was an irony that amused Isabel that, in 1991, she was called on to be a spokesperson for the whole town, white and black, in its campaign for safe drinking water and decent river flows for everyone. The town of Collarenebri, which had resisted her calls for justice for most of her life, was now asking her to protect its very existence in the deep drought of the 1990s.




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Hidden women of history: Kathleen McArthur, the wildflower woman who took on Joh Bjelke-Petersen


Born in 1928, Isabel had shown how tenacious she was from a young age – although denied access to the Collarenebri public school, she was determined to teach herself to read and write. And she did. On the veranda of the local manse as a child and then in every place she worked and lived, Isabel grabbed every shred of knowledge and skill she could, determined she would not be defeated by segregation and exclusion.

The group of children who were excluded from Collarenebri public school in 1938 as ‘too black’. The photo is from the Abo Call, an Aboriginal-edited newspaper that existed for six issues in 1938. Isabel is the shortest girl standing in the middle row. The tall boy behind her is Aub Weatherall, her future partner.
Author provided

‘I was terrified when I stood up there’

By the 1950s, as a young mother, Isabel was working as a cleaner in the same school to which she had been denied access as a student. She was trying to hold her family together in the face of uncertainty in the pastoral work her partner did and a precarious existence on the edge of the town.

Murri kids were now allowed to go to the school, but they faced hostility from white students, parents and staff. Isabel used her time there to support them, demonstrating her formidable insight as well as her negotiating skills and keen sense of humour to disarm conflict with teachers and deflect contempt from white parents.

Still, the possibility of her flying under the radar could not last. Indeed it was over children that Isabel decided to take on the town. She and her sister-in-law, Isobelle Walford, had for years been angered by the discrimination their children were facing in the schools and in the main streets. The petty segregation of the town’s cinema, the “Liberty” Picture Show was the last straw.

The Liberty Picture Show, circa 1980.
Heather Goodall

Watching their kids being herded down to the front seats, where they were roped off and had to crane their necks to see the screen, Isabel and Isobelle made the decision in 1961 to challenge the unspoken rules.

They marched up to the ticket box and demanded seats that had been reserved for whites only. Their action made the women and their families vulnerable to retribution at work and on the streets. But this local activism, which happened much earlier than the celebrated 1965 Freedom Ride led by Charles Perkins, later drew the attention of the university campaigners in north west NSW. As Isabel remembered it:

…I stood in front of the ticket office and I said: ‘I want you to come and fix this. Take these ropes off! What do you think we are? Our money is as good as anyone else’s and we want to sit where we want to sit’ … I was terrified when I stood up there … my poor little heart, I don’t know how it stayed in my chest, but it did. Even though I said it as calmly as I could, I was so sick within myself.

Isobelle joined Isabel and the pair stood their ground in front of the ticket seller.

And then he could see I was just going to stand there and keep standing there. Sometimes I think if he’d waited just a little bit longer, I’d have gone away. But then he said: ‘Oh, alright, you can sit anywhere then!’

Still frustrated by the poor health care and education offered to her people in the bush, Isabel brought her family to Sydney in the late 1960s, hoping to escape the suffocating racism of rural towns. She worked in the kitchen at Prince Alfred Hospital in Newtown while her partner, Aubrey Weatherall, worked in factories, but Sydney offered little relief from the racism.




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What Isabel did find were allies. She got to know Aboriginal people from other places, with similar stories. And she met the city students and activists who were eager to learn about conditions in rural areas and to put their shiny new credentials as lawyers, archaeologists and doctors into effecting social change.

Isabel playing cards with students at Tranby, an Indigenous-controlled, post-secondary educational body.
Author provided.

With these people, Isabel fostered strategies that could be put to work in rural areas to support and strengthen Aboriginal communities. And with some, Isabel built warm friendships of trust and confidence which lasted all her life. She had hoped to gain a better education for her children, but in the end, they felt that it had been Isabel who had learned the most from their time in Sydney.

Campaigning for a place of peace

By the time Isabel returned to Collarenebri, she had become a skilled and careful negotiator. After campaigning for Land Rights, she took up a job with Mangankali, the Aboriginal Housing company she helped found.

She was trying to achieve concrete outcomes – better housing, more equitable distribution of resources – but always had a recognition of the importance of the broader, symbolic issues. So, she paid a great deal of attention to the Aboriginal cemetery, in which many of the community had buried their loved ones, old and young.

The town cemetery was segregated – but the Aboriginal community had turned this into a strength, recording their family stories and carefully decorating, washing and caring for the graves in their cemetery over the years.

Decorated graves at the Collarenebri cemetery.
Author provided.

Many people, like Isabel, saw this tiny pocket of land as symbolic not only of community but of all the land they had lost. But the road to this cemetery was unreliable in wet weather, deepening the pain of loss when burials had to be delayed.

In one of the many extraordinary achievements of her life, Isabel developed a consensus among all the Collarenebri families that they would refuse government funding for any other project until it was available to upgrade this road. With so many families impoverished and suspicious of all government actions, it was terribly hard for Aboriginal people to refuse funds.

Their solid collective refusal to take funds for two funding rounds was astounding, demonstrating how deeply the community felt about the cemetery. The government relented, recognising the importance of the demand for reliable access – not only to this burial site but to this tiny corner of their land. The new and upgraded road was opened in 1983. Said Isabel:

The cemetery is a place where Murries can feel at peace, as we are surrounded by our loved ones in spirit and we are able to strengthen our affinity with our land.

After her retirement from the Land Council largely until her death in 2000, Isabel again took on wider roles, particularly focussing on the campaign to end Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and to recognise the right to safety of Aboriginal women and children. She was recognised in 1986 with an Order of Australia Medal. She was proud of this but her later recognition by the Collarenebri and Brewarrina communities with awards and then an Honorary Doctorate from Tranby, an Indigenous-controlled, post-secondary educational body, meant more to her.

The Order of Australia Medal was certainly useful in her continued campaigning. But when asked what OAM stood for, she would always joke, “It stands for ‘Old Aboriginal Moll’”.

Correction: the original version of this article had incorrect dates for the year of Isabel’s birth and death. Thank you to reader Andrew Katsis for alerting us to this.

Heather Goodall met Isabel in Sydney in the 1970s and worked with her in collaborative historical projects. Isabel asked Heather to assist in recording her life story, undertaken during the 1990s, then, after Isabel’s death in 2000, Isabel’s book was finished with assistance from her family.The Conversation

Heather Goodall, Professor, Social and Political Change Group, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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