Thursday, May 7, 2009

NSW Greats 4 - Louisa Lawson and Jesse Street

Back to some more great women this State has produced. 

Feminist, women's rights activist, writer and poet, businesswoman, suffragist.
One of the originals in the fight for women's suffrage in what was then the colony of NSW.   She started her own publication "The Dawn - a journal for women" in 1888 having sucessfully established herself after the end of her marriage and having worked her way up by washing, sewing and taking in boarders before buying shares in and working on a paper called the Republican.  With the Dawn she had finally set up her own publishing house.   As she employed women, including women typographers she had to fight off the objections of the NSW Typographers Assn who did not allow women members.  The Dawn was an instrument of change.  Louisa announced that it would " publicise women's wrongs, fight their battles and sue for their suffrage.  It offered household advice, fashion, poetry, a short story and extensive reporting of women's activities both locally and overseas.  Louisa added a political editorial on the importance to women of the divorce extension bill...: " And Louisa achieved all this while raising 4 children and without any of the labour saving devices we have today.  What a woman!

We can also note here that Louisa was the mother of Henry Lawson, but she needs no name dropping and is a legend in her own right.   She is buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood Necropolis in Sydney. Friends of Rookwood offer themed tours of the cemetary on the first Sunday of the month between March and November.

Her poems are not her claim to fame, but you might be curious to read some of them.

Jesse Street picked up where the likes of Louisa Lawson left off.  She campaigned on equal rights for women and human rights both domestically and across a world stage.   Among her many achievements in 1945 she was instrumental in having the word "sex" in the clause "without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion" wherever it occurs in the Charter of the United Nations.   She campaigned for peace and for aboriginal rights and was influential in organising aboriginal leaders into a national lobby group and (with advice) drafted changes to the Australian Constitution removing discriminatory reference to Aboriginal people.  Her suggested changes where passed in the 1967 referendum.  

Jesse Street was simply an unbelievably capable, courageous woman committed to human rights.  She seemed to have a knack of being wherever in the world there was something going on.  Her biography is probably the most awe inspiring and fascinating biography I have read.  She really had a fascinating and inspirational life.

Unlike Louisa Lawson, Jesse was from a privileged background and was a graduate of Sydney University.  It was by no means the accepted thing for women to be educated to a tertiary level in 1908.  It was at Sydney Uni that she met her future husband who was to become Sir Kenneth Street - Chief Justice of NSW.  Chief Justice of NSW was something of a family occupation. Kenneth's father was Sir Philip Street and Kenneth and Jesse's son was to become Sir Laurence Street ... both of whom were also Chief Justice of NSW. Quite a family .. but I digress.. and perhaps I do Jesse Street an injustice clouding her entry with other personages..  please do read her biography which is linked in the title. I'm sure I haven't done her justice in this little entry.   

I would also like to add just few words in praise of Sir Kenneth Street.  It cannot have been all that convenient in those days to have such a woman as your wife when you are  at the bar and establishing your career or the Chief Justice of NSW and firmly embedded in the establishment and your wife is getting right stuck in, in the political arena and being smeared with names like "Red Jesse".  It does him credit that he allowed his amazing wife the right to her own career. I guess we shouldn't be surprised that their son is a bit of a legend too.

This link will take you to the Jesse Street content on the National Archives website on Uncommon Lives.

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