Alice Henry ~ Pioneering Feminist

Day 318 of Colourisation Project – March 21

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born in Richmond, Melbourne, on this day, 21 March 1857, Alice Henry was one of Australia’s most prominent feminists and social reformers. Having first championed the cause of women here in Australia, she rose to prominence in the American trade union movement as a member of the Women’s Trade Union League in the early twentieth century.

Alice Henry

Photographer Unknown (State Library of Victoria) ~ Alice Henry ~ Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Denied access to a university education she turned to journalism, becoming Australia’s first female journalist, when she joined The Australasian in 1884. For the next twenty years, she was a featured reporter with the Melbourne Argus and the Australasian, where her main focus was labor reform, disabled children, juvenile courts, women’s hospitals, and proportional representation.

Closely associated with the progressive movement in Melbourne, she became involved with Australian politics in the 1890s, and began to lecture on women’s rights, suffrage and labor. An early activist, she participated in many clubs such as the Melbourne Shakespeare Society, one of the oldest literary societies in Australia; was secretary of the Women Writer’s Club, a feminist club formed in 1902 for the intellectual advancement of women; and served as an advisory member on committees set up by the National Council of Women and the Victorian Women’s Federation.

In 1906 she moved to the United States, where she soon became office secretary of the Women’s Trade Union League in Chicago. She remained there for 30 years becoming an American citizen in 1923 and a prominent and respected figure in the union and women’s suffrage movements.

Though she retired to Santa Barbara, California in 1928 at the age of 61, after completing a lecture tour of Britain, Henry returned to Australia in 1933 and continued championing her causes well into her early eighties.

Her last three years were spent in a nursing home in her home town, Melbourne where she died on 14 February, 1943, at the age of 86.

Her life’s work and commitment to social reform and the emancipation of women in both Australia and the United States was unyielding. The struggle for equal rights is the dominant theme in her writing and her lectures. And this was her legacy.

Henry authored two books, The Trade Union Woman (1915) and Women and the Labor Movement (1923).  Along with assistance from her close friend Miles Franklin, who later became one of Australia’s leading novelists, she edited the official journal of The Women’s Trade Union League, the Union Labor Advocate (1908-10), and Life and Labor (1911-15).  In 1937 she also compiled a bibliography of Australian women writers.

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“Many of the difficulties and dangers surrounding the working-woman affect the workingman also, but on the other hand, there are special reasons, springing out of the ancestral claims which life makes upon woman, arising also out of her domestic and social environment, and again out of her special function as mother, why the condition of the wage-earning woman should be the subject of separate consideration. It is impossible to discuss intelligently wages, hours and sanitation in reference to women workers unless these facts are borne in mind.”   ~  Alice Henry

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