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Helen Macpherson Smith Trust marks 70 years with $1 million donation to celebrate women’s voices

Media release

Monday 10 October 2022


Helen Macpherson Smith Trust (HMST) has donated $1 million to State Library Victoria in celebration of the Trust’s 70-year anniversary.

The grant supports the State Library’s Women Writers Fund, securing acquisitions by women writers for the State Collection, alongside public programming including an annual marquee oration featuring an internationally recognised speaker.

Catherine Walter AM, Chair of the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust said “The gift to the State Library will grow the representation of women’s writing in our State Collection, from the past and into the future. Additionally the public programming will amplify its reach to new generations and build on its deep cultural influence”.

The grant to the State Library is made alongside a commitment of $250,000 to the Stella Prize, supporting the major literary award celebrating women’s writing.

President of the Library Board of Victoria Christine Christian AO said the generous commitment will help to strengthen the recognition of the contribution of women to all aspects of society.

“We are extremely grateful for this generous donation, which will enrich the Women Writers Fund and expand the availability and accessibility of women’s literature,” she said.

“This $1 million donation is a real milestone in our 35-year relationship with Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. The partnership began with the Trust’s support of the Family History Reading Room in 1998. This renewed commitment will ensure the Library’s beautiful spaces can be enjoyed by more people to seek, share and celebrate women’s literature in new ways.

“We are grateful to all our dedicated donors for their outstanding generosity. We all share a common purpose – to showcase women’s voices to new audiences and provide new ways to celebrate the vast contribution women have made to all aspects of life.”

The donation from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust has already enabled the Library to make two significant purchases:

  • A signed, first edition of Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová’s From my childhood. This rare book contains 94 woodcuts following the life of a middle-class girl in the Czech Republic and is considered a landmark work in the history of women’s contribution to literature.
  • Emilie du Chatelet’s French translation of Isaac Newton’s Principia mathematica from 1759, which will complete the Library’s representation of this iconic female scientist.

Senior Librarian History of the Book and Arts Dr Anna Welch said the generous support of the Trust will have a lasting impact on the State Collection.

“I’m excited to continue to work with the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust to enrich our Library’s holdings of women across the ages, whose voice and contributions are an integral part of our shared cultural and intellectual history,” she said.

“The Trust’s support has allowed the acquisition of Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová’s, From my childhood – the first ever wordless graphic novel created by a woman. Acquiring this beautiful work for the Library – one of 50 limited edition copies numbered and signed by the artist, and in exceptionally fine condition – will introduce her to an appreciative modern audience and help tell a more accurate story of the development of graphic novels as a form.”

Interviews are available with President of the Library Board of Victoria Christine Christian AO and Helen Macpherson Smith Trust Chair Catherine Walter AM.

About State Library

State Library Victoria is Australia’s oldest public research library and one of the first free libraries in the world. As the custodian of Victoria’s social history, the Library has a rich collection of physical and digital items such as newspaper articles, artworks, photographs, manuscripts, books, journals, artefacts which are accessible to the public.

About Helen Macpherson Smith Trust

Helen Macpherson Smith Trust is an independent philanthropic trust established by Helen Macpherson Schutt (née Smith) in 1951. Since HMST Trust was established, over $130 million has been approved in grants to a wide range of Victorian charitable institutions and a diverse range of projects benefiting Victorians.

About Women Writers Fund

The Women Writers Fund is a pioneering fund that seeks to redress the historical gender bias in State Library Victoria’s collection by acquiring works by under-represented 19th and 20th century women writers. The work of the Women Writers Fund will give future generations access to more diverse and representative voices from different times, cultures and disciplines. The Women Writers Fund will also support creation of an ongoing program of events to inform and inspire today’s young people by shining a light on the intellectual and creative endeavours of women from the past.