Blog

Adela Pankhurst in Queensland, 1916

‘Put your sword back in its place,” … “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’[1]

Adela and Vida (2)

A rotten egg flies through the air. Adela Pankhurst is the women of the moment, the ‘star’ of the peace movement, the darling of the socialist left, and feted journalist of a series of provocative anti-war articles. The egg misses its target but smashes at the base of the quickly erected platform on which Adela is standing. She is spunky and courageous; she is only twenty-nine years old. ‘Millions of young men are suffering and dying’, she tells the assembled crowds. The smell of the egg is awful. Women are suffering during the war ‘although they had no say in the making of the war, or how the country was to be governed’ she tells them. Adela invites the audience to draw closer so they might hear her. ‘Children are starving and dying of malnutrition’. But the crowd is becoming riotous. Adela Pankhurst is increasingly becoming the target of the angst and anger generated by the war; she is a formidable symbol of the ‘war-weariness’ and war’s meaninglessness. She is spoken about as ‘anti-recruiting’, ‘pro-Hun’ and a ‘traitor’ when she speaks for peace.

This Gympie lecture had not begun well. It followed on from the visit by Margaret Thorp. The town officials had refused Margaret permission to use the town hall for the meeting, so too Adela. But even worse on Adela’s visit, the street lights hadn’t been lit. Was the crowd emboldened in the darkness? Adela, WPA organiser, talks further of English constitutional history, the oppression of the landlords and the widening of the franchise. The local socialist Mr Eastcrabbe had introduced her; after a while the lights went on but the avalanche of eggs only increases, combined with paper bags of flour and bi-sulphide of carbon. Every-one has heard of the militant suffragette Pankhurst family, even as they were unaware of the differences between pacifist Adela and her pro-war mother Emmeline and sister Christabel, and the pacifist socialist Sylvia. The local press has stirred up a hornet’s nest; the newspapers are still ‘blood-thirsty and ‘war-loving’, Adela later reports. Much of the audience supposedly turned up ‘out of curiosity to see what the result would be’. They are restless, don’t want to hear about the history of women’s rights and interject that women had the same right to vote as men in Australia. Adela keeps her smile.

AP

It was the second Queensland lecture tour that she and Cecilia John has undertaken for the Women’s Peace Army and the Australian Peace Alliance. They arrived in Brisbane from Sydney on August 5th, 1916, and were billed as part of the campaign for ‘No to Conscription’ to appear at Mount Morgan, Ipswich, Rockhampton and Bundaberg. Previously through June and July Adela had toured successfully through New Zealand speaking to overflowing venues working with the Women’s International League in conjunction with the Labor Representation Committee. This Queensland tour is in part to raise funds to ensure Australian women delegates attend the peace negotiations in Europe at the end of the war. The WPA also hoped that new branches would be formed in regional Queensland. In July after the Somme offensive, however, the Billy Hughes government wants more troops, and compulsory conscription. When Adela and Cecilia had arrived in Brisbane, it was the time of the annual show; Adela was shocked to see the celebrations with such little regard for ‘the time of crisis’.

adela in new zealand

Author/Contributors: Holt, Sheila Betty, 1909-1998
National Library of New Zealand Ref: 1/2-067533-F, Photograph of Adela Pankhurst with founding members of the New Zealand branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, during Adela’s visit to New Zealand in 1916. Location unidentified, probably Auckland. Photographer unidentified.

Adela is well experienced as an orator and campaigner, used to handling both adulation and rough crowds, unsympathetic audiences and those swept away by her passion, ever since the days she went out into provincial Britain advocating women’s right. Returned servicemen had jostled and heckled women peace-makers in Melbourne where, as biographer Verna Coleman describes, Adela was ‘unflinching’ even ‘rejoicing in the excitement, still slight and girlish in appearance’ in facing attacks.[2] On other occasions she was to glory in her ‘triumphant debate’ and be carried shoulder high to ‘thunderous cheers’.[3] In Gympie she smiles ‘rather wearily’ as the ‘patriotic songs’ drown her out. A recruiting sergeant in their midst announces he had a volunteer and ‘would anyone else accompany him’. A larrikan ‘returned Anzac hero’ mounts the platform and yells out how the women in England were ‘pleased to work while their husbands went to war’. Then the crowd began to ‘count out’ Adela. They boo and jeer at the ‘suffragette’.

 

Adela Pankhurst’s Put Up the Sword was published in July 1915 by the WPA. Cecilia John wrote the foreword: ‘War is murder’. The pamphlet advocates ‘joint management’, ‘universal justice’ even a ‘federation’ of hostile states to ensure ‘permanent peace’:

‘I have written this book with the object of setting forth the causes and disastrous social effects of war, of internal warfare by the Government and monied interests of every country against the people of every country, and of international warfare promoted entirely in commercial interests. I wish to make it clear that I am assailing a vicious system, not the persons who are merely the tools of the system. They, as well as the masses of people, are apparently blind to the way in which the system lays the mines, and seeming circumstance acts as the fuse that sets uncontrollable human forces ablaze in social, industrial and international affairs.
The forces which have built up the British Empire, as we know it, are at work in Germany as well as in our own country… A permanent civilisation can only be built upon a foundation of justice. The present system is a denial of justice. It gives way to the strong and tramples upon the weak, it stifles the cry of the oppressed, it gives unlimited advantage to the ruthless. It weakens the race by taking the strongest, healthiest and bravest of the young men, and stamping their lives out of them, leaving young women forlorn, and children fatherless. Today we watch 10 million men smashing what generations have built up. While they march and slay and burn they are fed and clothed by the labour of women and little children; they consume the bread of growing children, and they even drink the mothers’ milk, robbing the suckling babes, whose mothers must needs wean them to work in the factories and fields, filling the places of absent men… learn that by our weapons we slay, not others only, but ourselves as well.’

Violence against women was increasingly widespread as the war continued. The Ipswich mayor had refused the WPA access to the town hall for their meeting forcing them to hold these challenging open-air meetings in the streets. At Rockhampton, the demonstration of returned soldiers were ‘put down’ by the audience, it was reported, but as yet we have no further information about this. Back in Brisbane, a special WPA meeting discussed the forthcoming legislation on Venereal Disease ‘Social Evil and Its Relation to War’. Cecilia chaired the gathering, Adela was chief speaker and the audience asked questions. The meeting called for free, adequate and voluntary treatment of venereal disease: any system of state control was ‘futile’. It was ‘indefensible’: ‘it makes vice appear safe for men at the expense of women’. Another meeting was billed on ‘Women and War’ on the ‘true meaning’ of the women’s movement; a ‘very pleasant evening’ ‘social’ for Adela and Cecilia held at Trades Hall; and the ‘informative and entertaining’ lecture ‘War and the Workers’, with which she had toured New Zealand, was packed out. For an hour and a half, Adela held her audience spellbound.

Just as Adela was the target of masculinist anger and despair, just as she was booed off the stage as a ‘suffragette’ in Gympie, she also became the figurehead of the peace movement in Australia. Her biographers come close to capturing her extraordinary abilities to bring truth to power, but underestimate her commitment to pacifism as a core human value, and the empowerment that understanding brings. Coleman writes of her ‘vehemence in this cause’ and tries to relate it to Adela’s sympathy for the ‘underdog’;[4] Kay Saunders found her life ‘perplexing’ in its ‘irrational devotion to various causes’[5] motivated by a ‘love of the spotlight, the roar of crowds’ but confirms her empathy for the hardships of working-class women’s lives. Both Coleman and Saunders warn of her rhetoric; her obsessions about race and sex, her exaggerations and sentimentalities. We could point to the arrogance engendered by the British imperial connections, or the celebratory statue of the Pankhurst name, the belief that ends justify means, or a long standing preoccupation with the domestic sphere. When Adela was asked by the reporter Freda Sternberg ‘Why do you bite policemen’ she replied that if the militant suffragettes had been men, they would have killed them long ago, and they knew it. Both Coleman and Saunders highlights the tensions and rivalries, the painful exclusions within the Pankhurst family itself to understand Adela’s drive, and argue the importance of the support and moderating mentorship of Vida Goldstein, employer and friend.[6] Indeed, the WPA was critical, as Adela was spokesperson for a movement, not the movement itself however powerful her personal connections, and she knew Annie Kenney the suffragette friend of Billy Hughes, or however at odds her ideas may now be with the feminists that followed.

What was the legacy of Adela and John’s 1916 visit to Queensland for Queenslanders and the women’s peace movement? Verity Burgmann in a different context, argues the radical flank of the socialist movement, and the Industrial Workers of the World were extremely important in marking out the perimeters of the debates about the war and allowing the space for more moderate anti-war voices. Certainly, Adela’s speeches and articles were provocative interventions and functioned as outspoken cornerstone; her words were yeast to leaven the anti-war movement. Yet Adela’s success also rested on her ability to draw together strands of what was in the heads of many people at that time of crisis in Western civilisation, to argue a case that engaged with their concerns and resonated with their passions.

 

[1] Matthew 26: 52.
[2] Coleman, Verna, Adela Pankhurst : the Wayward Suffragette 1885-1961, Carlton South, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1996, 70.
[3] Coleman, Verna, Adela Pankhurst : the Wayward Suffragette 1885-1961, Carlton South, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1996, 74.
[4] Coleman, Verna, Adela Pankhurst : the Wayward Suffragette 1885-1961, Carlton South, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1996, 63.
[5] Saunders, Kay, Notorious Australian Women Sydney ABC Books HarperCollins, 2013, 106.
[6] Coleman, Verna, Adela Pankhurst : the Wayward Suffragette 1885-1961, Carlton South, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1996, 60.

LEADING LIGHTS: Isabella Skirving

Skirving.jpg

Helen Huxham and Isabella Skirving

Isabella Skirving was highly regarded as a ‘forceful and logical speaker’, a ‘born banner-bearer for Labor’, early president of the Shop Assistants Union, and represented at the State Labor conferences. Born in Rockhampton in 1867, by the war years Isabella Hyland had had long experience working alongside Emma Miller and Helen Huxham with the women’s unions, in the key Labor suffrage organisation, WEFA, and she was active in the Woolloongabba WWPO. She was another extremely capable peace-maker and organiser who seems to have relied on her oral communication skills rather than any writing capacities, as none of her written material appears to have survived. She was also a key figure in an intimate partnership with a senior Labor man. Alexander Skirving (1868-1935), whom she had married in 1907,  was president of the Industrial Council, stood for state office (unsuccessfully),  and later was a member of the Legislative Council with Joe Silver Collings (that went on to dissolve itself). He was a very successful long term alderman for the Brisbane City Council.  They had one son. When he died in 1935, Isabella stood for Labor pre-selection at a plebiscite in his former ward the following year, but was unsuccessful.

She was active in the Women’s Peace Army and the Anti-Conscription Coalition Committee. Isabella Skirving was the key organiser in raising funds for ‘distressed’ working people during the war, raising money through the workers’ distress fund art union.

Unrestricted Freedom of Speech without Interference from the Military or Police.

The right to ‘freedom of speech’ is a long-standing tradition in Western democracies; in the Australian context it can mean the right of an individual to have direct access to the general public and ‘speak’, that is to stand on a soapbox and orate, lecture to and express one’s truth to those who are prepared to listen. This was one of the bases of the fearless and charismatic Emma Miller’s political power. She could reach out to new audiences and further educate others. In Brisbane, the place for political leaders and intellectuals was often the Botanical Gardens in the Domain; Sydney had a similar ‘Domain’; and in Melbourne crowds mostly congregated on the ‘Yarra Bank’. Yet during World War One, unrestricted freedom of speech was under threat. There was a permit system in place.

A deputation to the Government was formed through a loose association of groups. The Women’s Peace Army chose Emma Miller as their representative. It was a very serious concern; the WPA had been refused permission by the Commissioner of Police to speak in the street on a Sunday night.

This deputation requested ‘unrestricted freedom of speech without interference from either the military or the police’ meeting with the Queensland home secretary, John Huxham. It included representatives of the Australian Peace Alliance, the Australian Socialist Party and the unions, including the International Workers of the World and the Australian Worker’s Union. Emma Miller, the ‘grand old woman of Queensland’ was a veteran, well known for speaking out, and was very highly regarded by her younger colleagues.

‘The spectacle of Mrs Miller appealing for free speech should impress Mr Huxham very much’, said one of the contingent. It was a large deputation of over forty people.[1] Emma Miller spoke for the Women’s Peace Army. She told of how the WPA had received a written reply from the police refusing her request to speak.

‘If they could not speak now, with a Labour Government in office, when could they speak? And Mr Huxham also should remember that they should not be interfered with by the military’.[2]

‘That is a matter for the Federal Government’, replied Mr Huxham.

‘Oh, yes, I know that’, replied Emma Miller.

Emma Miller knew John Huxham very well. She and his wife had worked closely together on the rights of working women and the right of women to vote.

‘Give us a place where we can go on Sunday afternoons’, Emma Miller interjected during the speeches by other delegates.

‘The women are so backward because they have no place to go. After the war the women will have to be dealt with to prevent their being sweated’.[3] It was a timely suggestion, a compromise, if the government could allow them at least four places across Brisbane where soapboxes were allowed, some measure of ‘free speech’ could be retained. But it was only a few years after the euphoria and disaster of the 1912 general strike in Brisbane, the first general strike in the Western world which had been undermined and sabotaged by the Commissioner of Police, Cahill. The labour movement wanted him gone; the police should not be able to determine whether they had the right to speak.

‘To whom would you give it’, asked John Huxham.[4]

‘Let it be in the hands of the Government’, responded Emma Miller, ‘because we can deal with them afterwards’.

John Huxham promised to take the deputation’s request to the state Cabinet, but little could they all foresee the coming battles with the federal government about surveillance, censorship and harassment of speakers.

 

 

 

 


[1] ‘Claim for Free Speech’, Telegraph, 29 July 1916, p. 9.

[2] ‘Claim for Free Speech’, Telegraph, 29 July 1916, p. 9.

[3] ‘Freedom of Speech’, Courier, 29 July 1916, p. 4.

[4] ‘Claim for Free Speech’, Telegraph, 29 July 1916, p. 9.

 

 

WPA Organisational History: 1916 February-June

17 February 1916

The WPA reconvened after the summer break. Their meeting was held in the Ladies Reading Room of the School of Arts, with the committee meeting half an hour before. Clio Jensen was elected president. She was one of the ‘advanced’ woman, one of the university graduates of the ‘New Woman’ and had an MA. Resolutions to the prime minister were drafted and discussion focussed on relief work, relief work in the form of clothing to be sent overseas to England and distributed through the Society of Quakers. Donations and requests for speakers were coming in from various branches of the WPO, Women’s Political Organisation.[1]

7 March 1916

The main business was to prepare for a public meeting to explain the aims and policy of the movement. Three resolutions were finalised: to Mr Hughes (PM) and the Brisbane based Industrial Council on terms of peace at the Imperial Conference and against conscription; that the PM ‘induce’ the Imperial Conference on the importance of the enfranchisement of women as a way of obtaining permanent peace; and to protest against the widespread ill-treatment of Germans in Australia.[2]

9 March 1916                     PUBLIC MEETING, Brisbane

Margaret Thorp presented ‘The Aims and Policy of the Peace Movement’. Held in the School of Arts, and chaired by Mr R V Smith, at the conclusion, the meeting of at least forty people resolved that:

  • The Australian people ‘be taken into the confidence’ of the Commonwealth government about measures they were favouring to permanently establish peace;
  • The Australian government make representations to the Imperial Government that open [not secret] ‘real’ parliamentary control was held on foreign policy.[3]

16 March 1916

Members of the WPA, notably Margaret Thorp and Emma Miller, continued to speak to other groups; they reported on a successful talk at Wynnum. Other members were active in relief work and in distributing ‘literature’.

 

30 March 1916

The WPA agreed to affiliate with the Australian Peace Alliance. Delegates appointed were Emma Miller, Clio Jensen, Mrs Watson and Margaret Thorp. Emma Miller was to attend a conference in Melbourne. A sub-committee was formed to distribute copies of a pamphlet ‘Australian and the Coming Peace’, ‘to educationalists, MPs, and all the leading publicists and doctors, etc’. [4]A ‘quotation’ meeting, members were asked to bring extracts by great minds on ‘peace’. They farewelled a member, Mrs Sampson, on her move to Townsville.

4 May 1916                         PUBLIC MEETING, Brisbane

Clio Jensen presented ‘Women’s Part in the Permanent Abolition of War’ at the School of Arts, which was followed by discussion.

18 May 1916

Thorp accused the School of Arts committee of ‘autocratic tyranny’ when they decreed that the WPA could no longer hold their meetings there, despite her extended defence.[5] It seems that it was Adela Pankhurst’s reputation as an ‘anti-loyalist’ that was their key objection. Incoming correspondence requested more public meetings in Gympie, Ipswich and Maryborough. Letters continue to arrive from ‘headquarters’ of the WPA in the Hague. It was agreed to have membership cards.

 

1 June 1916

Fortnightly Thursday night meetings were held at the Concordia Hall. Correspondence included a letter from Billy Hughes the PM. The Congregational Union refused WPA’s offer of a speaker. Planning and arrangement continued for events and activities in the forthcoming months.[6]

 

14 June 1916

A social gathering of songs and dancing, as a reception for the return of Emma Miller from her visit ‘down South’ to Melbourne and Sydney, included speeches by ‘prominent political supporters of internationalism’. The expatriate Russians of Brisbane gave a Cossack dance in costume.[7]

 

22 June 1916

Emma Miller took the chair, in Clio Jensen’s absence. Rather than present a paper, Margaret Thorp gave the floor to Emma Miller who, ‘in her own spirited way’, outlined the work of the Victorian WPA, which was not ‘charitable’ rather paid union wages to those in the ‘workshop’ or on the women’s farm.[8] She described ‘her keen delight’ at being associated with Vida Goldstein, Cecilia John and Kathleen Hotson. She spoke of the ‘straight home truths’ administered to Labor movement leaders and the Sydney WPA she met with. Six new members signed up.

 

[1] ‘Women’s Peace Army’, Worker, 24 February 1916, p. 4.
[2] ‘Women’s Peace Army’, Daily Standard, 7 March 1916, p. 2.
[3] ‘Women’s Peace Army’, Daily Standard, 10 March 1916, p. 5.
[4] ‘Women’s Peace Army’, Worker, 6 April 1916, p. 9.
[5] ‘Is it Victimisation? Women’s Peace Army, School of Arts Committees Quibbles’, Daily Standard, 22 May 1916, p. 4.
[6] ‘Women’s Peace Army’, Daily Standard, 10 June 1916, p. 4.
[7] ‘Men and Matters’, Worker, 15 June 1916, p. 10.
[8] ‘Women’s Peace Army’, Daily Standard, 27 June 1916, p. 7.

LEADING LIGHTS: Clio Jensen

Clio Jensen spoke at least four languages: English, German, Danish and Italian. She promised ‘to do all in her power to help the movement’, the international movement of women for peace, when she was elected the first president of the Women’s Peace Army in early 1916. One of the new generation, an ‘Advanced Woman’, highly educated with an MA, and presumably of Danish origin, Clio Jensen was the Classical mistress with Brisbane Girls’ Grammar. She had taught at Ipswich Girls Grammar for five and a half years of ‘efficient and faithful service’ until the end of 1912, when she resigned to take up her position at BGGS.

Early in her role as WPA president she presented an eloquent and considered paper, wide-ranging and scholarly, at a public meeting hosted by the WPA in the School of Arts. The aims of ‘the world-wide movement amongst women’, she outlined, were ‘the permanent abolition of war amongst civilised nations’. In her presentation she queried:

  1. Is it a good object, worthy of the best efforts of all women;
  2. Is it possible of realisation;
  3. If so, what are the best means of attaining it.

The Daily Standard published ‘Abolition of War. Women’s Part in the Future’ in toto.[1]

The very day after Clio Jensen’s paper was published, the WPA, ‘The Petticoated Peace Army’ was attacked in the media. ‘So that it should be accepted as a non-party, non-political association’, opined the journalist, ‘it was decided to appoint as president some woman who had not been associated with political propaganda. Choice finally fell on a lady who has earned the right to carry the letters MA as an appendage to her name’, but continued the journalist, ‘the WPA submitted to the ‘boss-ship’ of Mrs Ernest Lane, who ‘so thoroughly monopolies that erudite but far too modest lady’s presidential functions and powers that she reduces her to the position of a mere onlooker’. What Clio Jensen made of the scurrilous attack of the Truth journalist, we might only be able to imagine, but it will be worthwhile considering the whole article in toto, in a separate blog given the need to address representations of the WPA in the media. Enough here to note that there were a number of benefits for the WPA in Clio Jensen taking on the presidency. The women’s movement in Queensland had divided over the issue of votes for women; there had been three key suffrage organisations. Labor women, socialist women were possibly aware of the need to build bridges with the progressive intellectual sections of the women’s movement, especially as the women’s movement was further divided over responses to World War One.

Clio Jensen had links with the international women’s movement. Later that year, 1916, she translated the account ‘Women’s Peace Chain’ of Louise Wright’s participation? at the International Committee for Permanent Peace at the Hague in April 1915.[2] Louise Wright, philanthropist, Christian and Danish pacifist (1861-1935) on her return to Denmark had helped form the Danish Women’s Peace Party, or Women’s Peace Chain.

Clio Jensen also had links with intellectual and feminist elite in Brisbane; she continued to attend social functions at the Women’s College, University of Queensland, for example. And she continued to publish occasional journalism, in the Daily Standard with a further piece on Hans Christian Andersen. And elsewhere? Historian Hilary Summy provides a much important view on why Jensen may have taken up the presidency; apart from her own commitment to ‘permanent peace’, Clio Jensen and Margaret Thorp were such good friends and got on so well together that Margaret Thorp moved into Clio Jensen’s home in May 1916.[3]

[1] 1916 ‘ABOLITION OF WAR. WOMEN’S PART IN THE FUTURE’, Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld. : 1912 – 1936), 13 May, p. 14. (SECOND EDITION), viewed 07 Apr 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article179847382

[2] 1916 ‘WOMEN’S PEACE CHAIN.’, Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld. : 1912 – 1936), 29 November, p. 7. (SECOND EDITION), viewed 07 Apr 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181090479

[3] Hilary N Summy, Peace Angel of World War I : Dissent of Margaret Thorp, Brisbane: Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, 2006, p. 80.

Meetings 1915

The Women’s Peace Army was envisaged as a non-party, non-political movement. It aimed to work for the ‘great cause of humanity’ and the ‘true meaning’ of ‘patriotism’: by preparing the way for future peace, by stimulating constructive peace proposals and working against the spirit of militarism in all its forms.[1]

29 November 1915

Mabel Lane chaired the very first meeting of the Women’s Peace Army. No president was elected. Margaret Thorp became the secretary and treasurer. Mabel Lane took on the work as assistant secretary. Vice-presidents were Emma Miller, Mabel Lane, and Mrs Birbank. A committee was appointed including Mesdames Speering, Watson, McCarthy, de Guerin, Summers, Hewett, Baird, Humner, Briggs. Who else attended?

Discussion touched on strong concerns about children and jingoism and the need for a deputation to the Minister for Education, their opposition to children selling tickets, and compulsory military training for boys.

6 December 1915

Decisions about the shape and function of the organisation was made: voluntary subscription (of 6d a week) meant no woman would be prevented from joining (on the basis of economies); a circular letter was to be sent out to various ‘districts’ soliciting memberships and the possibility of forming branches; holding of monster meetings were envisaged as too lecture tours. The meeting listened to a deputation from the Anti-Conscription League; in turn Mabel Lane, Emma Miller and Margaret Thorp were elected to undertake a deputation to the Industrial Council about anti-conscription strategies. [2]

Mrs Birkbank spoke briefly about the ‘awfulness’ of war, and about compulsory conscription: ‘one volunteer was worth ten pressed men’. Margaret Thorp read her paper on ‘Women and War’. Mrs J Collings spoke from the floor; she and Emma Miller thought Margaret Thorp’s paper should be published, and it was.

Margaret Thorp ‘Women and War’

This was the last meeting for the year.

[1] National Library of Australia, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181580720 Daily Standard, Saturday 11 December 1915, p. 7.

[2] ‘Women’s Peace Army’, Worker, 9 December 1915, p. 15.

LEADING LIGHTS: Helen Julia Huxham

‘The present international calamity would not have happened’ speculated Helen Huxham ‘if women had taken their place in politics earlier’. [1] She was an extraordinary woman, remembered as the most important woman involved in the ‘development and progress’ of Labor in Queensland, ‘politically and industrially’ that is apart from Emma Miller.[2] At her untimely death in 1925, accolades poured in: ‘We regarded her as the most gifted woman in the Labor movement in the State and she was always of incalculable value in our election campaigns, on the platform and in an organising capacity.’ [3] And just as Mabel Lane’s, her home was a hub ‘in a constant state of invasion’ and her correspondence full of requests for assistance.

Historian Helen Hamley warned of the ‘dismissive’ and ‘brief’, hence tokenistic references to women in Queensland labour historiography in 2001; while at the same time alerting us to the importance of Helen Huxham as labour organiser and feminist.[4] Little is known about Helen Julia Dougherty’s early years; her most active involvement was in promoting women’s unions, in promoting ‘justice, peace and better social conditions’, in working ‘tirelessly’ for the Labor between 1907 to 1920. And much of the little that we do know about her is only available because of her relationship to her second husband, who was a senior Labor politician and Queensland’s agent general in London.

Born Helen Julia Dougherty, her first husband was Meiklejohn. On 13 October 1897, widowed, she married John Huxham; they had one daughter. John Huxham was an importer and sporting and musical goods retailer; he was elected to Queensland parliament in 1907. Their daughter’s blindness, caused by meningitis when seven, presumably encouraged the couple’s active interest and support for people with disabilities and the wider health and welfare sectors. John Huxham, ‘quiet, moderate, a teetotaller’ was also a Baptist lay-preacher, as noted by G N Logan in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. ‘Some people’ observed a contemporary, attribute John Huxham’s ‘political success to the fact that he is Mrs Huxham’s husband’.[5]

What we can glean from a cursory newspaper search is that Helen Huxham was a very experienced speaker in her own right, ‘the most successful lady orator on Labour and economic subjects’. There are very many reports of her talks and lectures to groups across the state, references to her public speaking not only indoors but also at rallies, to small groups and large crowds, and she often took the place of her husband on the podium when he was unavailable. She advocated the rights for women workers, took a position on the Recruiting Committee organised by the conservative National Council of Women to protect women workers’ rights, and was extremely outspoken against compulsory military service through conscription. And on numerous occasions she had to defend herself against attacks in the conservative press.

How active she was in the Women’s Peace Army is less easy to discern. Helen Huxham did attend the reception for Adela Pankhurst and Celicia John on their visit from Melbourne. Presumably she was onboard the government boat on its trip down the Brisbane River accompanying her husband when Cecilia John, a contralto, sang the outlawed song ‘I didn’t raise my son to be a soldier’. Presumably she was also acquainted with the tirade of abuse John Huxham had to face in Parliament and the conservative press in the days following as the elected representative responsible for the use of the Otter. Perhaps that is as far as her involvement with the Women’s Peace Army went? ‘Equally dominant’ in that life-long happy union of husband and wife, both ‘equally sensitive to the calls of humanitarian amelioration’, how did the Huxhams, and Helen in particular respond to Australia’s participation in the war?

Helen Huxham believed that once women achieved universal suffrage across the globe, war was less likely. She was reported as saying: ‘Women had taken a place in politics not a moment too soon. If they had taken that place earlier it was within the bounds of possibility that the present international calamity would not have happened.’[6] And while she was prepared to denounce conscription, she urged women to be ready to do their share, and to ‘watch their own interests’. She pointed out, on numerous occasions, that many of her menfolk, her son, her nephews were at the war front. Was she a member of the WPA? She worked alongside the WPA, and she spoke about Margaret Thorp’s wonderful anti-conscription work at a recognition of Thorp’s contribution to the campaign.

After the war, and after standing for Labor Party preselection for the Senate, unsuccessfully, Helen Huxham was appointed a Justice of Peace. She accompanied her husband to London in July 1924 when he was agent-general, and died prematurely soon afterwards.

[1] ‘Bremer Celebrates’, Daily Standard, 2 August 1915, p. 4.

[2] ‘The Late Helen Huxham’, Daily Standard, 17 November 1924, p. 10.

[3] ‘Buranda Tribute’, Daily Standard, 17 November 1924, p. 10.

[4] Helen Hamley, ‘ “If you’ve got the women… you’ve got the men”: Women Activists in the Queensland Labour Movement 1880s to 1920’, The World’s First Labor Government, Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 2001, pp. 59-74.

[5] ‘The Week in Brisbane’, The Catholic Press, 23 September 1915, p. 27.

[6] ‘Bremer Celebrates’, Daily Standard, 2 August 1915, p. 4.