Australian Women's National League. (1904-1944)

Also known as
Australian Women's National League.
Function
Women's rights organisation; Political organisation; Women's rights activists
Libraries Australia
http://nla.gov.au/anbd.aut-an36005486
NLA Persistent Identifier
https://nla.gov.au/nla.party-598652

Biographies

The Australian Women's National League (AWNL) was a conservative women's organisation established in 1904 to support the monarchy and empire, to combat socialism, educate women in politics and safeguard the interests of the home, women and children. It aimed to garner the votes of newly enfranchised women for non-Labor political groups espousing free trade and anti-socialist sentiments, with considerable organisational success. At its peak, it was the largest and arguably the most influential women's organisation in the country. By 1914 the AWNL claimed 52,000 members in three states. Closely associated with the United Australia Party, the financial and organisational support of the League was a key factor in the foundation of the Australian Liberal Party in 1944. At this point, the majority of members reconstituted themselves as the Women's Section of the Liberal Party. The League continued in a much reduced state.

The initial impetus for the formation of the Australian Women's National League came from moves by the Victorian Employers Federation in 1903 to form a conservative women's political organisation. Janet Lady Clarke was approached to sponsor this new group and held a meeting of three hundred women at her home in August 1903 to discuss forming an organisation. Nothing definite emerged, however, until the following year when another meeting, organised by Clarke's sister, Evan Hughes, was held at the Melbourne Town Hall in March 1904. A provisional committee was elected and the following month the League was formally established and Janet Lady Clarke was appointed first president.

Throughout its existence the Leagues aims were: • "Loyalty to the Throne • To counteract Socialist tendencies • To educate the Women of Victoria to realise their political responsibilities • To Safeguard the Interests of the Home, Women and Children."

Numerous suburban and country branches were subsequently formed. From 1909, the League's activities were extensively documented in its journal . An issue which attracted the early attention of the League, apart from combating left-wing politics was the provision of domestic science education for girls in schools and the establishment of domestic science as a university course. From 1905-1945 the League organised the Empire Day celebrations in Melbourne. During World War I acted as a rallying point for women in Melbourne. It encouraged women to cultivate medicinal herbs and plants, to make garments and towels for fund-raising stalls, to donate old linen, blankets, towels, bandages, toiletries and pipes to the Red Cross Society and gave advice on 'rural industries for women': poultry farming, gardening and even pig raising. After the war, the League's activities expanded considerably into the areas of women's and children's welfare. In 1918, the League inaugurated 'Baby Week' in Melbourne, which included the exhibition of healthy babies from charitable homes, displays of baby foods, pure milk and sample diets, and lectures by doctors and nurses. This led to the formation of advisory centres which contributed to the establishment of Baby Health centres and pure milk supplies in Victoria. From 1906 it ran classes in public speaking, debating and branch work for its members.

The League was initially very much committed to the belief that men and women had different, 'natural' spheres of interest and activity. Although working to provide a voice for women's specific concerns and offering some political influence for women, the League did not support the idea of women taking on political leadership. It was not until the 1920s that it endorsed the entry of women into parliament.

Both its important place in conservative politics, and its strong commitment to representing women's interests, are evident in its role in the formation of the Australian Liberal Party. In return for the support of their membership and considerable financial backing, the AWNL obtained two key undertakings from Robert Menzies: there was to be equal gender representation throughout the Liberal Party, and that the AWNL be permitted to continue within the new party's structure, as the Women's Section. Most League members thus left to form this new section of the Liberal Party. Some members, however, felt strongly that it was important for women to retain autonomous organisations and they continued the League in its original form although with greatly reduced numbers.

View the full record at Australian Women's Register

In March 1904, six prominent Victorian women inspired by Mrs F.G. Hughes and Mrs A.E. Clarke met together and decided to organise women voters so they could make effective use of their newly acquired franchise. Lady Janet Clarke was appointed first President. The League continued for the following fifty years as a vocal and influential women's group.

View the full record at University of Melbourne

Related people and organisations

Australian Women's Register

Resources for Australian Women's National League.

Selected resources (25)

Australian Women's Register

  1. Australian Women's National League
    Published: National Foundation for Australian Women
    Series: IspartOf The Australian Women's Register
  2. Homefires and Housewives: Women, war and the politics of consumption
    Smart, Judith
    [2004]
    Series: IspartOf Victorian Historical Journal
  3. Eva Hughes: Militant Conservative
    Smart, Judith
    [Melbourne]
    Published: Penguin
    Series: IspartOf Double Time: Women in Victoria - 150 years
  4. The Woman
    The Australian Women's National League
    [1907-1934]
  5. Constitution of the Australian Women's National League
    [Melbourne]
    Published: The Australian Women's National League
  6. History of the Australian Women's National League
    [Melbourne]
    Published: The Australian Women's National League
  7. 'Conservative Female Endeavour': The Australian Women's National League 1904-1914
    McCarty, Elizabeth
    [Melbourne]
    Published: Department of History, University of Melbourne
  8. Australian Women's National League
    Smart, Judith
    [Melbourne]
    Published: Oxford University Press
    Series: IspartOf Australian feminism: a companionBarbara Caine
  9. The Australian Women's National League: A Theoretical and Historical Reconsideration
    Scobie, Doug
    [Melbourne]
    Published: Department of History, University of Melbourne
    Series: IspartOf Raiding Clio's Closet: Postgraduate Presentations in HistoryMarty Crotty and Doug Scobie
  10. Alfred Deakin and the Australian Women's National League
    Fitzherbert, Margaret
    [Annandale, N.S.W.]
    Published: Federation Press
    Series: IspartOf Liberalism and the Australian FederationJ. R. Nethercote
  11. Conservative feminism in Australia: a case study of feminist ideology
    Simms, Marian
    [1978]
    Series: IspartOf Women and Labour Conference, Conference Papers, v. 3, Australian Feminism
  12. Out of the doll's house; women in the public sphere
    Encel, Sol and Campbell, Dorothy
    [Melbourne]
    Published: Longman Cheshire
  13. Women of influence: the first fifty years of women in the Liberal Party
    Sydenham, Diane
    [Melbourne]
    Published: Women's Section, Liberal Party of Australia Victorian Division
  14. From Vision to Reality: Histories of the affiliates of the National Council of Women of Victoria
    [Melbourne]
    Published: YWCA
  15. 'Most eminent woman' : Lady Janet Clarke
    Bartle, Claire
    [Melbourne]
    Published: Melbourne University History Student Research Series, no. 5, Department of History, University of Melbourne
    Series: IspartOf Melbourne University Mosaic: People and Places
  16. A Woman's Place: Women and Politics in Australia
    Sawer, Marian and Simms, Marian
    [Sydney]
    Published: George Allen and Unwin
  17. 'For the good that we can do': Cecilia Downing and feminist Christian citizenship
    Smart, Judith
    [1994]
    Series: IspartOf Australian Feminist Studies
  18. The 'Woman Question' in Melbourne, 1880-1914
    Kelly, Farley
    [Melbourne]
    Published: Monash University
  19. Liberal women : Federation to 1949
    Fitzherbert, Margaret
    [Sydney]
    Published: Federation Press
  20. A sacred trust: Cecilia Downing, Baptist faith and feminist citizenship
    Smart, Judith
    [1995]
    Series: IspartOf Our Yesterdays
  21. Australian Women's National League, Geelong Branch
    [1904 - 1907]
    Series: Geelong Heritage Centre, Geelong City Council
    Membership register.
    GRS 355
  22. Papers and history, 1920-1969 [manuscript].
    [1920 - 1969]
    Series: State Library of Victoria
    Comprises papers of the Australian Women's National League, 1920-1945, collected by Dame Elizabeth Couchman, and history entitled "The Australian Women's National League, 1904-1945" by Elizabeth Couchman, 14 February 1969.
    Accession no: MS 8713
  23. Australian Women's National League
    [0.04 m : 1904 - 1954]
    Series: The University of Melbourne Archives
    Australian Women's National League history commemorating the organisation's fifty year anniversary; photo album containing portraits of the first members of the League, photographs taken by Sarony Studios, 114 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. NOTE: Many of the women in the photographs are unidentified.
    1987.0141
  24. Papers of Dame Ivy Wedgwood, 1928-1972 [manuscript]
    [7.2 m, 4 folio items : 1928 - 1972]
    Series: National Library of Australia, Manuscript Collection
    Correspondence, diaries, subject files, speeches, minutes, reports, photographs and publications relating to her political career. There is also correspondence and printed material relating to Lady Knox and her participation in the Australian Women's National League.
    MS 5159
  25. Papers of Dame Elizabeth May Ramsay Couchman, 1913-1970 [manuscript]
    [0.01 m : 1913 - 1970]
    Series: National Library of Australia, Manuscript Collection
    E.M.R. Couchman, Hopes of Australian women. Copy of account of women's views as supplied to the Ministry of Information by request (1945); The Australian Women's National League (1904-1945) (Historical notes, with addendum). Autobiographical notes (1970). Federal election campaign leaflet (1941) for endorsed U.A.P. candidate for Melbourne, Mrs E.M.R. Couchman; Australian Women's National League records: Explanatory leaflet (1937); programme for Empire Day Celebration (1945); statement authorized by the Executive (1945); Newspaper cuttings ca. 1934-1945; Photograph of delegates at the Liberal party of Australia Inaugural Conference, Albury, Dec. 1944.
    MS 2752

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