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, 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.

Leading Lights: Mabel Lane

MABEL LANE, née Gray

Born in about 1870 in Ballarat, Mabel Gray grew up in country Victoria and Melbourne, before moving to Brisbane with her parents in 1885, where she completed her education at the Normal School. Trained as a milliner, she worked for Edward and Lamb. With three co-workers, she joined the Early Closing Association, a movement to limit shopping hours and close ‘early’ instead of at midnight; it was urged in part to protect young shop-workers from overwork and night-time predation. She and her friends were the first female members. Mabel also jointed the Freethought Society and meet some of the key players in the labour movement; she was a foundation member of the feminist Women’s Equal Franchise Association; and she assisted the feisty labour leader, Emma Miller, in the Prisoner’s Relief Fund formed when the strike leaders of great strikes of the 1890s were goaled.

What we know about Mabel Lane mostly comes from the recent fascinating biography The Conscientious Communist of her husband Ernie Lane.[1] He was the brother of William Lane, the visionary socialist and intellectual who inspired the New Australia settlement in Paraguay. Ernie Lane was a key political organiser in Queensland holding various positions in the labour, socialist and communist movements; he was the industrial writer for the labour newspaper Daily Standard. From Jeff Rickertt’s account, it becomes clear that Mabel excelled as a social networker and hostess; not only in Paraguay where they followed the earlier contingents, but also their family home in Highgate Hill when they returned to Brisbane. They had married in 1895 and had four children. From 1912 ‘Cosme’ in Brisbane was to become a vibrant centre of discussion, politics and entertainment, a ‘haven for rebels’ and ‘centre of continuous hospitality’.[2] Euchre, dancing, and ‘vocal numbers’ were billed to aid seamen or raise funds for workers. According to Rickertt, Cecilia Johns and Adela Pankhurst stayed with the Lanes on their tour in 1915; later Kathleen Hotson stayed with them on her visit to Queensland.

Mabel Lane was organiser, fund raiser, canvasser, networker and secretary. She took up key, and key enabling, positions in the Women’s Peace Army. She chaired the very first meeting in December 1915, after its formation. That night, she took two position as a vice-president and assistant secretary,[3] and she was nominated to join Emma Miller and Margaret Thorp on a deputation to the Industrial Council about anti-conscription strategies. She was responsible for donations to the ‘fighting fund’. She was in charge of the ‘peace literature’ which included the Victorian Woman Voter.[4] In June 1917 a surprise party was thrown for her to acknowledge her ‘tireless zeal for the Peace and Socialist movements, particularly on their social side’.[5] ‘No scheme was too big for her efforts’. Taken unawares, Mabel Lane expressed her ‘keen appreciation of the presentation’.

Later she went on to participate in the formation of the Queensland Socialist League, take on the role of agent for the distribution of Victoria’s socialist newspaper The Socialist and work with the Labour Women’s Vigilance Organisation, and the Women Workers’ Organisation among other activities.

[1] Jeff Rickertt, The Conscientious Communist, Ernie Lane and the Rise of Australian Socialism, Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2016.

[2] ‘Presentation to Mrs Lane’, Daily Standard, 27 June, 1917, p.3.

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

[4] ‘Women’s Peace Army’, Daily Standard, 23 September 1916, p. 4.

[5] ‘Presentation to Mrs Lane’, Daily Standard, 27 June, 1917, p.3.

First blog post

  • This is about women who took a stand against state-sanctioned violence during World War One and spoke out for peace and freedom.
  • This is about many courageous individuals, mostly white women, who joined together to work for peace, freedom and social justice.
  • During the time of war, they formed firstly the Women’s Peace Army, and others formed the Sisterhood of International Peace; some were also involved in the Australian Peace Alliance, and they were affiliated with the International Women’s Congress for Permanent Peace. After the war they became a branch of Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom [WILPF] in Queensland.
  • Most of these women were ‘absolute’ pacifists opposing violence and war in all its varieties. Many of them had a long term involvement in the 19th century women’s movement and previously worked on the campaign for votes for women.
  • These women were concerned about human rights and the levels of state surveillance during the times of war. Queensland became the centre of the opposition to conscription to military service in Australia, and at the time of the two referenda, many of these women campaigned against compulsory military service.

Formation of the Women’s Peace Army: Queensland, 1915


One hundred women were waiting at the Central station in Brisbane to welcome two leading peace women, Adela Pankhurst and Cecilia John from the Women’s Peace Army of Victoria and the Australian Peace Alliance. It was hot. The guests arrived by train from Melbourne on November 1915 to be met and hosted by the Women’s Franchise League.

An afternoon tea in their honour was held at Finney’s roof garden cafe, ‘tastefully arrayed and decorated with flowers’. Let’s list here who attended, as these women are mostly left out of history books: Emma Miller, Helen Huxham, Mesdames Sampson, Carter, Wallace, Wyatt, Mabel Lane, Collings, Beard, McCarthy, Brazier, Powers, Calleghan, Free, Green, Hewitt, Muse, Margaret Thorp, Dixon, Evans, Rowlands, Carter, and Fraser.[1]

11 November, 1915

Adela Pankhurst’s public lecture ‘Down with Germany’, at the Centennial Hall, was reported in the Truth,[2] as ‘Expert Analysis of the Armageddon/And its Aftermath/Monster Meeting’s Message to Mothers of Men’. She was billed as ‘the younger daughter of the notable English family’… ‘telling deeper truths and pointing our a nobler, saner, braver way out of international hatred, destruction, and slaughter’ than her mother who embraced the ‘fight to the finish’. Civilisation and war were contradictory, argued Adela. The women, children and working classes were those who suffered during war, even as they had less part in the war. She described international warfare as a periodic event, spoke of shifting allegiances and the interdependence of nations through trade and the deprivations of even neutral countries during war. She called for an International Court of Arbitration. The audience of 1400 people was rapt. They were ‘stirred to their heart’s core’ when Adela detailed the deplorable conditions of women and children, especially given the rises in food prices, and coal up by 300 percent. Glorification of immorality and illegitimacy to improve the birthrate destroyed the morality of women. The audience wanted more.

A second lecture by Adela Pankhurst ‘The Price of Empire’ was billed for the following Monday to be held in Centennial Hall. At a further meeting of concerned citizens, Cecilia John spoke about the aims and work of the Australian Peace Alliance in Victoria, where she was an organiser. The group unanimously resolved to form a branch of the Australian Peace Alliance in Queensland and provisional officers were elected. It was hoped unions, especially metropolitan unions, would affiliate. John and Pankhurst also spoke to a big meeting in the Trades Hall through the auspices of the Anti-conscription Council.

16 November, 1915

A meeting to form a branch of the Women’s Peace Army was held in the Modernist Hall. John spoke about the aims of the Victorian Women’s Peace Army, and similar organisations in America and Europe. She advocated an international court, general disarmament, international federation of workers, and ‘government of tropical countries by international commissions’.[3] She talked of the harassment of the censor in their publication The Woman Voter, and the terror instilled when organisations faced surveillance and prosecution. Adela Pankhurst urged that women be included in the peace negotiations, that at least 20 women from the Commonwealth be delegates when the warring parties arranged peace terms. Brisbane women were ready. They passed the motion to form a peace army almost unanimously, and then invited Margaret Thorp to be secretary. Margaret Thorp was ready and outlined the two types of membership available. Members were asked to commit. They were to undertake to pledge themselves to the cause of peace. Associate members were expected to help in any way they could.

[1] ‘Social and Personal’, Telegraph 12 November, 1915, p. 8.

[2] ‘Adela Pankhurt’s Passionate Plea’, Truth, 14 November 1915, p. 2.

[3] ‘Women’s Peace Army’, Daily Standard, 17 November 1915, p. 5.