Jessie Street ~ Australian Activist Ahead of Her Time

Day 346 of Colourisation Project – April 18

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

She was the only Australian woman delegate at the founding of the United Nations in 1945; the initiator of the 1967 ‘Aboriginal’ amendment of the Australian Constitution; and a colleague of Pablo Picasso on the World Peace Council Executive.

Jessie Street

Passport Photo ~ Jessie Street 1915 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Born on this day, 18 April 1889, Jessie Street was a humanitarian who lived by the principle that all people are equal. Her life was one of dedication to social reform, peace and justice.  Regarded as one of Australia’s leading feminists of the 20th century, she was also recognised internationally for her activism in social justice causes.

The daughter-in-law, wife and mother of three Chief Justices, she was despite her privileged background, known as ‘Red Jessie’ to a generation of Australians for her pro-Soviet Union leanings during the Cold War.

Committed to fighting for equal rights and the elimination of all forms of discrimination, she championed the cause of Australia’s Aborigines, working tirelessly for the removal of Australia’s constitutional discrimination against them. Street proposed amendments to the constitution which were eventually carried in the 1967 referendum; granting legal citizenship to Indigenous people.

Street’s early activism on behalf of Aboriginal people began in the 1940s while she was working in the Australian Women’s Charter movement. Street saw to it that a core principle of the Charter was the advancement of the status of Indigenous Australians.

A woman’s right to economic independence was a cause especially close to Street’s heart. She believed in a right to income for married women, a right to paid employment regardless of marital status, a right to compete alongside men in the labour market, equal pay, and just remuneration of skills.

Street was a member of the Australian team establishing the United Nations in 1945 and Australia’s first representative on the UN Economic and Social Council Commission on the Status of Women.

A revised edition of her autobiography, Truth or Repose first published in 1966 garnered this recommendation from Australian Book Review, (June-July 2004)

“Jessie Street’s autobiography should be compulsory reading for anyone who seeks potential change. …To describe this autobiography as inspiring is an understatement. It is an extraordinary record of a remarkable life. Indeed, it is difficult to know how to explain Street’s immense contribution to women’s rights, welfare economics, social justice and peace studies. …Jessie Street’s autobiography offers a history of the 20th century from the point of view of an Australian woman of vision, commitment and rare political talent.”

Jessie Street passed away in 1970 at the age of 81. She was a woman ahead of her time and deserves to be remembered as one of the greater Australians of the twentieth century.

I leave you today with an audio clip provided by the National Film & Sound Archive of Jessie Street’s speech delivered in 1945 at the inaugural meeting of the International Women’s Radio League, detailing the part women played in the 1945 United Nations founding conference in San Francisco. 70 years later it makes for interesting listening in light of the advancements made for women since then.

Women’s Status in the United Nations Charter (1945)


“There is a good deal of talk just now about what they are going to do after the war with the women: Must they be made to return to the home? Are they going to take them out of the factory, the office, off the land?

 To me, this sort of discussion is very disquieting. It makes me think we’ve already forgotten the reasons why we’re fighting this war. Aren’t we fighting for liberty, for democracy and to eradicate fascism and Nazism in every form? Surely we don’t mean liberty and democracy for men only?” 

–Jessie Street  ‘Is It To Be Back to the Kitchen?’   –  Speech broadcast on ABC Radio’s National Program  – 17 April 1944

This entry was posted in Australia, Australian Politics, Colorization, Colourisation, History, Opus Loredana, Photography, suffrage, Women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Jessie Street ~ Australian Activist Ahead of Her Time

  1. Reblogged this on Cogpunk Steamscribe and commented:
    A great Australian.


  2. what a great lady, I like how you’ve done this one,the white vignette in keeping with the photo’s of the time.


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