“There has hitherto been no trumpet through which the concentrated voices of womankind could publish their grievances and their opinions.”
… wrote Louisa (Albury) Lawson in the early days of Australia’s first feminist journal, The Dawn (1888-1905). She was the proprietress, printer and publisher, employing exclusively women in all aspects of the business.
The Dawn gave Australian women a voice for the first time and is now freely available through the National Library of Australia’s “Trove” website, thanks to a 2011 fundraising campaign by Melbourne businesswoman, Donna Benjamin, to digitise the publication.
Louisa (Albury) Lawson was an independent and resourceful woman who fought for women’s rights during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Australia.
Born 17 Feb 1848 on Edwin Rouse’s station, Guntawang, near Mudgee, New South Wales she was the second of twelve children of Henry Albury, station-hand, and his wife Harriet (Winn), needlewoman. Baptised an Anglican, Louisa was educated at Mudgee National School where J.W. Allpass proposed making her a pupil-teacher. Instead she was kept home to help care for her younger siblings, which she resented.
At eighteen, 7 Jul 1866, at the Wesleyan parsonage, Mudgee, Louisa married Norwegian-born sailor Niels Hertzberg Larsen who called himself
Peter. A handyman and gold digger, he was fluent in several European languages and teetotal. They joined the Weddin Mountain gold rush and later selected forty acres (16ha) at Eurunderee. By the time of the birth of her first child, Henry, they had anglicised the spelling to Larsen
Peter was often away gold mining or working with his father-in-law, leaving Louisa on her own to care for the property and raise four children – Henry 1867, Charles 1869, Peter 1873 and Gertrude 1877, the twin of Tegan who died at eight months. Louisa grieved over the loss of Tegan for many years and left the care of her other children to the oldest child, Henry. This led to ill feelings, on Henry’s part towards his mother, and the two often fought. Henry became one of Australia’s most famous writers.
After her marriage ended, Louisa kept up the pretence of being separated from her husband, by misfortune. Peter sent money irregularly to help support the children and she considered taking legal action. Instead, in 1883, Louisa moved to Sydney and supported her family by doing washing, sewing and taking in boarders.
In 1887, using the money she’d saved, Louisa purchased shares in the radical pro-federation newspaper, The Republican, which she and Henry edited and printed on an old press in her cottage. The Republican called for an Australian republic uniting under “the flag of a Federated Australia, the Great Republic of the Southern Seas”. The Republican was replaced by the Nationalist, but it lasted two issues.
With her earnings, and experience working on The Republican, Louisa was able to edit and publish The Dawn the following year. With a strong feminist perspective, it fequently addressed issues such as women’s right to vote and assume public office, women’s education, women’s economic and legal rights domestic violence and temperance. It was published monthly for 17 years and, at its height, employed 10 female staff. Louisa’s son, Henry Lawson, also contributed poems and stories and, in 1894, The Dawn press printed Henry’s first book, Short Stories in Prose and Verse.
Louisa (Albury) Lawson launched the campaign for female suffrage in 1889 when announcing the formation of the Dawn Club where women met to discuss “every question of life, work and reform” and to gain experience in public speaking. Louisa Lawson could claim success when, in 1902, women in New South Wales gained the suffrage. She was described as “the Mother of New South Wales Suffrage”.
Retiring in 1905, but continuing to write for Sydney magazines, Louisa (Albury) Lawson died in Gladesville Mental Hospital on Thursday, 12 Aug 1920 aged 72, after a long and painful illness. On Saturday 14 Aug 1920 she was buried with her parents in the Church of England section of Rookwood Cemetery.
The small obituary in The Bulletin gave as much space to the fact that she was Henry Lawson’s mother as it did to her role in the achievement of votes for women.
Louisa (Albury) Lawson wrote:
“I have always loved my countrywomen, always admired them, and believed in them, and believed them to be the most patient, long suffering, generous and capable Women in the whole World. I still think so. It does not seem so odd now as it did years ago, when Australians male and female were not considered as they are now. I had in my mind’s eye a big capable, strong, virtuous Woman as a Representative of Australia. I saw her in my dreams when a little child, and when I grew up I wanted to fight every obstacle out of her way, and I fought, God knows I did with a persistence almost amounting to mania as long as health and means lasted.”
Thanks to Donna Benjamin, and her supporters, we can now read the words of Louisa (Albury) Lawson, and others, thereby gaining a better understanding of the conditions of women’s lives at that time, their discontents and aspirations and the influences on the lives of our own Ancestors. Just log onto: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-title252
SOURCES: Australian Dictionary of Biography:
© Copyright 2012. Catherine Crout-Habel. Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family