National Council of Women

A gathering of the World Council of Women in England includes Tasmanian delegate from the National Council of Women, Emily Dobson (AOT, PH30/1/732)

The National Council of Women was established in Tasmania in 1899. The movement started in America in 1888 to provide a forum for women's issues, and spread round the world, with local bodies affiliated to the International Council of Women. It is represented in every Australian state, with three Tasmanian councils in Hobart, Launceston and Devonport, consisting of representatives from other women's organisations. Until the 1940s members were mostly drawn from white, educated society. They were usually married or widowed, middle aged, prosperous and often with prominent husbands. Emily Dobson was also Australian president.

The Councils provided a forum for women's groups to learn of each other's activities, and attempted a variety of activities designed to elevate the position of women or to assist the less fortunate. They included health and morality concerns, education of children, women's rights and child welfare, but involved more discussion than actual activity.

As original leaders aged in the 1930s the Councils waned, but were rejuvenated in the 1950s, with Dorothy Edwards becoming Australian president. Activity moved towards responding to requests for support from affiliated societies, often with success, and the Councils presented petitions to government and supported various activities of concern to women, such as, in the 1980s, censorship, gun legislation, domestic violence and the abuse of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

The National Council of Women Tasmania has always been respected by the government and the community generally, providing women with training in public speaking and in dealing with the bureaucracy of government, and has been a consistent voice for women in Tasmania.

Further reading: R Jordan, 'Emily's empire', MA thesis, UT, 2004.

Renée Jordan