State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 15 April 1975


Sources on Australian Women, 1880–1914, Available at the La Trobe Library

Only one serious attempt to evaluate sources about Australian women in Australian libraries has yet been undertaken, the results having been published in the feminist journal, Refractory Girl. (Nos. 1,2,3, 1972–73, with supplementary lists in later issues.) This compilation consists mainly of secondary sources — books, articles and pamphlets— written since 1900, and taken from the catalogues of the Fisher Library, University of Sydney, the Mitchell Library, Public Library of New South Wales and the National Library of Australia. Newspapers and popular women's magazines were specifically not included; an unfortunate omission, since both these sources are invaluable repositories of information about nineteenth and twentieth century Australian women.
The following discussion of the holdings of the La Trobe Library of sources relating to women, is based on research undertaken for a Ph.D. thesis at the Department of History, University of Melbourne. This is entitled ‘The Emergence and Character of Women's Magazines in Australia, 1880–1914’, and is due for submission in July 1975. The period 1880–1914 was chosen as it covered the emergence and stabilization of a woman's magazine industry in Australia, whereas the First World War brought into being new factors which changed the scene in the 1920's. The survey of women's magazines excluded those put out by organisations such as the Country Women's Association, the Women's Christian Temperance Union and other similar ones, as they did not set out to appeal to a wide audience. Suffrage magazines were an exception to this rule, since they were published by the few in order to convert the majority. The La Trobe Library holds the journals of the Victorian branches of such organisations.
The majority of women's magazines published in Australia between 1880–1914 are held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. The centre of journalism in Australia became Sydney in the late 1880's. The Bulletin was a major factor in attracting talented journalists to Sydney in this decade, and the financial crash in Melbourne in the early nineties sent many of that city's journalists to Sydney in search of work. From 1887 to 1900 no commercial women's journals were published in Melbourne at all, whereas that same period saw the establishment of the industry in Sydney.
Neither feminists nor academics seem to be aware of the great value of these women's magazines to the historian. Popular, ephemeral literature they may have been, but in their pages are to be found the social history of their era. How Australian women saw themselves and how their menfolk thought they ought to see themselves; the emergence of the career girl in the 1890's and first decade of this century; biographical information about literary and political women; the transition of the Australian colonies into a nation, as seen from a feminine viewpoint; —these are only some of the themes which can be explored in the women's magazines of this period.
Women's Magazines
La Trobe Library holdings of women's magazines are exclusively Victorian and are listed alphabetically by title. Austral Culturalist and Woman's Realm (1900), Australian Woman's Magazine and Domestic Journal (1883–1884), Australian Woman's Sphere (1900–05), Home Journal (1904–05), A Journal of the Daughters of the Court and for Women (1894–1901), The Interpreter (1861), New Idea (1902–11) which then becomes Everylady's Journal (1911–38), The Woman (1905–) which was initially The Women's Paper (1905–07), The Woman Voter (1911–19), Woman's News (1905) incorporated into New Idea the same year, Woman's World (1886–87)
Holdings of magazines after 1914 are not given here but may be consulted in the catalogue.
Other Journals
Many of the journals published in the period 1850–1914 contain valuable articles

To Our Readers.

“The New Idea” is a new departure in Australian journalism. No publication worthy of mention has hitherto been published devoted exclusively to the needs and problems of the Australian home and its mistress. Its name reveals its aim—to present the newest ideas continually arising in every branch of woman's life and interest. It will contain, each month. the best that is thought or written, the world over, on every topic which appeals to women. While it will adequately reflect the life and doing of women beyond these colonies, special care will be taken to make “The New Idea” a perfect reflex of local affairs and interests by the introduction of such regular features as, “Marriages of the Month,” “Social Chit-Chat,” “Pretty Fashions for Women,” “Doings of Noted Women,” etc.
We wish to draw special attention to two leading and original features, which alone will make The journal indispensable to every Australian woman. The first of these will be the introduction to Australasia, through the medium of “The New Idea.” of the finest paper patterns in the world. For the first time you will be able to secure paper patterns which will be absolutely reliable, perfectly fitting, thoroughly stylish and up to date, and sold to subscribers at the uniform and low rate of 9d. each, post free. The other special feature will be a regular series of engrossing Prize Competitions. open to every woman and child. The first of these is set out elsewhere. Do not miss reading that page or you may miss making £50! Other competitions are also to be found in this issue.
Price of the “New Idea.”
The price of the magazine will be 3d. per copy; or 3s. per year. postage free. Although the magazine will be equal to many ninepenny ones, we have fixed the yearly subscription at 3s., with the aim of obtaining 100.000 subscribers. This will enable us to give our readers literary and artistic value that would be otherwise impossible.
For the convenience of those women who attach special importance to paper with a surface like silk, and printing like photography, we have decided to issue a “Drawing Room Edition,” at 6d. per copy; or 6s. per annum, post free. This edition will correspond exactly with this popular edition, with the exception that the paper used will be of perfection art quality, and of heavy weight.
Criticism Invited.
A magazine is purely a business proposition. It is published to earn money for its owners. Now, the editor is the axle on which the success or the failure of a magazine turns. He either attracts, or fails to attract, subscribers. As he succeeds or fails in this, the magazine secures or fails of an advertising patronage. For the reader must exist before the advertiser will come. So the whole proposition reverts to the editor. Naturally, this makes him anxious to secure a wide circle of readers, for without their support he knows his magazine will be without succour. Is it likely, then, that an editor with such a proposition to solve will be indifferent to what his readers think of his magazine, that he will be unapproachable, or too busy to heed what his readers have to say to him? He is busy, to be sure; but not a particle more go than any other business man in any like position of responsibility. He has no time to read “fool” letters, of course. But never has there existed an editor who could not find time to read a letter of honest criticism, nor one who has failed to find help in its reading. Honest criticism is one of the most difficult things in the world to get. That is why an editor places so high a value on it when it does come to him. It is absolutely invaluable to him.
The man or woman who at any time will fairly criticise anything in this magazine we shall regard as a friend. Letters of criticism are never passed by nor overlooked. We like criticism. We invite it. Through it we learn. You can do us no greater favour than to
by and about Australian women. These general and literary magazines include The Australian Journal (1865–1958) in which much of the fiction and poetry was contributed by colonial women; Table Talk (1885–1939) which contains valuable biographical information about Melbourne women writers and journalists; Review of Reviews (Australasian edition) also containing biographical data plus information about which Australian women wrote for Australian newspapers and magazines in the 1890's; and the Melbourne Review (1876–85) and the Victorian Review (1879–83) to which a number of eminent women, among them Catherine Helen Spence, contributed articles.
A full study has yet to be made of the emergence of the woman's page in both the daily and weekly newspapers in the period before 1914. Weeklies which catered for women in this way before 1900 were the Bulletin, Australasian and Town and Country Journal. Daily papers which began publishing a weekly or bi-weekly woman's page before 1914 included the Argus, Melbourne Herald, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph. Biographical, political and social information about women can be found on these early women's pages.
Government Publications.
Census Reports, for information on women in the workforce, their education and standard of literacy; Parliamentary Debates for Victoria, NSW and S.A. for the arguments for and against the granting of women's suffrage; the Report of the Royal Commission on the Decline of the Birthrate and on the Mortality of Infants (NSW, 1904), for advertising of contraceptives, abortions etc.
The extensive collection of Victorian Pamphlets housed in the La Trobe Library contains some material relevant to women in Australia. This is mainly in the form of family or ladies' almanacks and autobiographical memoirs, such as Clara Aspinall's Three Years in Melbourne and Catherine Hayes's Memoir. The published minutes of charitable institutions such as the Melbourne Ladies' Benevolent Society, the Melbourne Orphan Asylum and others, are also in this collection of pamphlets, and show the ways in which ladies of quality spent their spare time. The only two issues published of Caroline Lynch's Interpreter (1861) are also in this collection of pamphlets. This was the first magazine edited by women to be printed in Melbourne, Harriet Clisby being the co-editress. Miss Clisby was later to gain fame as one of the first Australian women to graduate as a doctor in America, while Caroline Lynch is also remembered as the author of the Ladies' Almanac 1858 (subtitled ‘The Southern Cross or Australian Album and New Years’ Gift. The First Ladies' Almanack Published in the Colonies' (Melb., 1858). This is also held in the La Trobe Library.)
The State Library of Victoria's pamphlet holdings also contain much of relevance to the women's suffrage movement in Victoria and women writers in general. These can be found in the following pamphlet collections — Literary Periodicals, Miscellaneous, Satire and fac., Education, Social Science, Political Economy, Literature, Medical and Biographical. Harriet Dugdale's A Few Hours in a Far Off Age (Melb., 1883) can be found in the Social Science collection. This utopian novella was written by the pioneer of woman's suffrage in Victoria. The prospectuses of various girls' schools are to be found in Educational pamphlets, while sex education for young women and wives, in the form of S. Warren's Wife's Guide and Friend (1912) is in the Medical Pamphlets, A thorough examination of the SLV's pamphlet files would probably reveal much more, and a check list of Australian pamphlets bound with the more general ones would be more than welcome.
Biographical Material.
While not comparable to the Mitchell Library for indexing and cross referencing of articles, manuscripts and newspaper articles on women like Louisa Lawson and Mary Gilmore, the La Trobe Library nevertheless does have some important autobiographical works about women. Further biographical information can be obtained from a biographical index, which however, is not available for personal inspection. All inquiries are dealt
with courteously and quickly by the Library staff.
Memoirs available in the La Trobe include Mary MacLeod Banks's Memories of Pioneer Days in Queensland, Mrs. David McConnel's Queensland Reminiscences and Jane Isabella Watts's Memories of Early Days in South Australia (1882). Important autobiographies are Annie Bright's Soul's Pilgrimage (1907) — the authoress was Mrs. Annie Bright, wife of Charles Bright, journalist and lecturer, herself a journalist, feminist and editress of the literary journal Cosmos from 1895 to 1896; the novelist Ada Cambridge's Thirty Years in Australia (1902–03); the poet Mary Gilmore's Old Days, Old Ways (1934) and More Recollections (1935); journalist and trade unionist Alice Henry's Memoirs (1944), edited by Nettie Palmer; birth control pioneer Mrs. Harrison Lee's One of Australia's Daughters (1900); novelist Mrs. Campbell Praed's Australian Life, Black and White (1885) and My Australian Girlhood (1902); novelist Katharine Susannah Prichard's Child of the Hurricane (1963); novelist Henry Handel Richardson's Myself When Young (1948); feminist Catherine Helen Spence's Autobiography (1910); suffragette Mrs. E. Ward's Out of Weakness Made Strong (1903); and A.S.H. Weigall's My Little World (1934).
Biographical information on outstanding Australian women is also available in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, The Australian Encyclopaedia, H. M. Green's A History of Australian Literature (2 vols), E. Morris Miller's Australian Literature 1795–1938 (2 vols), and Johns's Notable Australians from the earliest volume issued in 1906, which later became Who's Who in Australia.
The absence of any significant collections on important Victorian women is disappointing and rather puzzling. Whatever happened to the papers of Harriet Dugdale, pioneer suffragette and feminist who lived in Melbourne until her death in 1918; and of the novelist Ada Cambridge who died in Williams-town in 1926? The dearth of material on Vida Goldstein has been remedied by Leslie M. Henderson's The Goldstein Story, but Vida's own writings are scattered throughout a number of Australian and overseas publications.
The same lack of material exists about the numerous clubs set up by women in Melbourne during the 1890's. Where are the records of the Austral Salon, the prestigious club set up for writing women, of which Ada Cambridge was a founder member? And of The Women Writer's Club of Melbourne? Until the history of these and similar clubs for women is written, the cultural history of Victorian women for the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of this century remains incomplete.
Secondary sources will not be discussed here, as those listed in the Refractory Girl bibliographical index for 1900 onwards are, for the most part, readily available at the La Trobe Library.
Maya V. Tucker