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Women's History Month

Online Collection Spotlight: Women’s studies archive

Pro abortion march, May 1979, 1979. Photo by Lyn McLeavy. This work is in copyright; H2012.7/6

After first-hand accounts of bush nurses working during the 1956 Murray River floods? Wanting to find the first lesbian rights organisation in the US and their newsletter? Looking for a good recipe for sheep's head pie?

If any of these questions have sparked your interest, the Women's studies archive has you covered!

Learn more

Celebrating our nurses: the history of nursing in Victoria

Miss Nightingale, [between 1854 and 1856], lithograph by H.S. Sadd, Melbourne, [Victoria] : T. M. Buzzard, H86.4/15

International Nurses Day is celebrated on Friday 12 May – the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. Her advocacy and contribution to health care saved countless lives by making hospitals safer places to be.

Nightingale advocated strongly for the role of nurses and equally for the recognition of their contribution to the care and recovery of patients.

Read more about the history of nursing in Victoria.

“Will she wear a wig?”

Grata Flos Greig, c.a. 1904. Courtesy of the University of Melbourne Archives, 1987.0141.00041

On 1 August 1905, an unusually large crowd, including “ladies in bright dresses”, descended on Melbourne’s Supreme Court building. The occasion was a momentous one. Ms Grata Flos Matilda Greig was about to become the first woman to be admitted to legal practice in Australia.

The road to admission had not been an easy one. Women were not allowed to vote or hold parliamentary office in Victoria, and there was widespread resistance to women practising law. But Flos was not easily dissuaded; nor was her upbringing a conventional one… for a woman.

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Isabella Fraser, a library pioneer

[Staff of Melbourne Public Library standing on steps of library, Swanston Street, Melbourne, Victoria], [ca. 1896 – ca. 1898]; H13084

When you walk into State Library Victoria in 2023, you will be welcomed by a diverse range of staff – people of different backgrounds, genders, ages and nationalities. But things haven’t always been this way, especially for women.

Discover more about the first female Library staff member on the public service lists.

Women Writers Fund

The Women Writers Fund is a pioneering new fund that seeks to redress the historical gender bias in the Victorian State Collection by acquiring works by under-represented 19th and 20th century women writers.

Works from this era often rare or expensive, with many only available through the international market. The Women Writers Fund allows the State Library to compete with private collectors and acquire works that can be made accessible to all through a public collection, giving future generations access to more diverse and representative voices from different times, cultures and disciplines.

Read more about the fund in Good Weekend's article Reader, I bought them: The Aussies helping reel in literature’s ‘great white whales’.

Donate now

Helen Macpherson Smith Trust

In 2022, the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust generously committed $1 million to State Library Victoria to support the Women Writers Fund.

The donation aims to grow the representation of women’s writing, from the past and into the future for all Victorians. The grant will support in securing acquisitions by women writers for the State Collection, alongside public programming including an annual marquee oration featuring an internationally recognised speaker. It was made alongside a commitment of $250,000 to the Stella Prize, supporting the major literary award celebrating women’s writing.

The donation builds on the work of philanthropists Krystyna Campbell-Pretty AM and Helen Sykes, who established the Women Writers Fund to preserve women’s literary and creative work for future generations.

From Bavaria to Ballarat: wild times with Lola Montez

‘Lola Montez,’ Lady’s newspaper & pictorial times, no 56, 22 January 1848, p 55

From love affairs with kings and political intrigue to adventures in the Australian goldfields, few have lived lives as colourful as Lola Montez.

Beautiful, vivacious and beguiling, Lola scandalised her way across the globe in the 19th century. Stories of her controversial tour include accounts of a 'spider dance', enchanting powerful monarchs and a troublesome penchant for violence.

Follow Lola's journey from Bavaria to Ballarat.

Modern dance individualism: the art of Sonia Revid

Sonia Revid in Elwood, Studio and outdoor portraits of Sonia Revid dancing her signature movements, 1930-1935, Photograph by Ina Jones, (MS8301, F Box 4897, PHO48)

In 1932 Sonia Revid, a Latvian born and largely unknown dancer, brought modern expressionist dance to Melbourne.

Having studied under Mary Wigman in Germany, Sonia cultivated a new unique style of movement and became a well-known yet enigmatic figure in the cultural community of Melbourne.

Discover more about her incredible life.

Behind the curtain: the lives of Dolia and Rosa Ribush

Rosa and Dolia beach scene (MS 9298, BOX 1008/2)

Dolia and Rosa Ribush played a pivotal role in the theatrical and cultural life of Australia, drawing on their great talents for friendship and theatre.

The couple arrived in Melbourne from Riga, Latvia in 1928, following a dream of becoming pioneers. The pair were determined to give new creative opportunities to Australian actors, writers, and painters, and became known for their theatrical productions & tremendous house parties.

Explore the story of the Ribush's exhilarating lives through items in our Manuscripts Collection.

Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichova – a pioneer of the wordless form

Z Mého Dětství (From My Childhood), Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová, 1929.

State Library Victoria's Rare Books Collection holds many wordless graphic novels by masters of the form, including a very exciting recent addition.

The piece, Z Mého Dětství (From My Childhood) by Czech artist Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichova is the first wordless graphic novel by a woman. It guides the reader through the life of a middle-class girl growing up in Czechoslovakia, highlighting the working-class experience.

Learn more about this beautiful piece of expressionist art.

Fanny Anne Charsley: a legacy of flower

Anthropodium laxum Villarsia parnassifolia Patersonia glauca. Illustration by Fanny Anne Charsley; 30328102131454/4

Explore the life and art of Fanny Anne Charsley, a botanical artist who lived in Melbourne during the mid 19th century and painted Victorian wild flowers.

From Moonahculla to Melbourne: The life of Auntie Marge (Margaret) Tucker

Studio portraits of Mrs Margaret Tucker by Dennis Mayor, H 2019.87/4, State Library Victoria. This work is in copyright.

Auntie Marge Tucker was a changemaker, author and activist who campaigned for the rights of Aboriginal women.

Learn more in our blog

The woman behind London’s first daily newspaper

Photo of soldiers resting in their quarters and reading newspapers

In March 1702, Elizabeth Mallet produced the very first edition of The Daily Courant, Britain's first daily newspaper.

Though the job title of 'editor' had not yet been invented, Elizabeth is thought to be the very first. As of the times, Elizabeth's name was printed as 'E. Mallet', but it was her fresh perspective and factual accuracy that cemented her as a visionary. 

Read all about her!

Miss Anderson’s motor service

Alice Anderson wearing chauffer uniform, ca 1918. Courtesy of University of Melbourne Archives; 1988.0061.01551

In 1919, at just 20 years of age, Alice Anderson founded Victoria's first all female motor garage.

‘Miss Anderson’s Motor Service’ offered vehicle servicing and repairs, petrol sales, a 24-hour chauffeur service (staffed by chauffeuses) and interstate road trips for adventurous tourists featuring generous catering.

Read our blog to learn more about Alice and her vision 'to turn a trade into a profession for women.'

Patricia Karvelas on elevating women's voices

Watch an excerpt from Patricia Karvelas' powerful speech at the Library's 2022 'International Women's Week: women's voices from the past' celebration.

A journalist and broadcaster, Patricia emphasises the importance of elevating all women's voices, and shares two novels which have had a profound impact on her.

Learn more about the Women Writers Fund and how the Library is seeking to redress the historical gender bias in the State Collection.

Émilie Du Châtelet: a pioneer in the Age of Enlightenment

Portrait of Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtele. Oil on canvas, by Maurice Quentin de la Tour. Private Collection, Henri-François de Breteuil.

Émilie Du Châtelet was 'a great man whose only fault was being a woman.'

State Library Victoria holds many key works from the Age of Enlightenment, including celebrated figures such as Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot. Amongst these famous male figures sits French intellectual, physicist, author, and mathematician, Émilie du Châtelet, who has emerged as a key figure in the Enlightenment movement.

Once lost to the annals of time, the Library's Women Writers Fund recently acquired a copy of du Châtelet’s critical text Institutions de Physique. Securing this important work was made possible by the generosity of donor and supporter of the Library, Krystyna Campbell-Pretty.

Read more in our blog.

Vali Myers: Australian artist

Vali Myers (1930-2003) was known as a free-thinking artist and dancer who lived a unique bohemian life that was true to herself.

Her archive held by the Library spans her life overseas and her return to Australia.

Learn more about Vali's story in our blog Vali Myers: Australian artist.

Mrs Fanny Finch takes a stand

Market Square Castlemaine, Forest Creek, 1855, Lithograph S.T. Gill; H94.83/3

Do you know the story of Mrs Fanny Finch?

Voting today seems like an easy task, but equal rights for women was a long, hard-earned achievement. The path towards the freedoms we enjoy today was paved by many brave women who spoke their minds when it wasn't an easy thing to do, and who wouldn't take no as an answer.

Read our blog about one of them: Fanny Finch, single mother of four, and the first known woman to vote in an Australian election.

Lina Bryans & Melbourne’s modernist art scene

Lina Bryans with Nettie Palmer and her portrait (MS 9420)

Discover the work of artist Lina Bryans and the modernist art scene in Melbourne.

Drawing on the Lina Bryans archive, this blog illustrates some of her personal story and delves into the wider world of modern art in 20th century Melbourne.

Lina was a key figure in the art scene, both as a practising artist and as a support for others, opening up her homes to provide a welcoming place for artists and writers.

Read the blog

Elizabeth Gould (1804-1841): Artist, traveller, wife and mother

three hummingbirds

John Gould, ‘Hypuroptila buffoni’ (detail) in A monograph of the Trochilidæ, or A family of humming-birds, London, 1849–61

In our World of the book 2022 exhibition, we celebrate the life and work of Elizabeth Gould with a display including one of three rare original watercolours from the Library's collection.

Elizabeth was a gifted artist, responsible for the drawings and the lithographic plates for almost all of her husband John Gould’s early natural history publications – some 600 in total. The pair even travelled from London to Australia in 1838 to study Australian birds for their upcoming book The Birds of Australia.

Learn more about Elizabeth's story.

The Gerritsen Collection & Dr Aletta H. Jacobs: a pioneer of women’s history & visionary

Get Elected! Poster by Carol Porter, RedPlanet, 1997; H98.210/1. This work is in copyright.

There are many names in the history of feminism and women’s rights, but Dr. Aletta. H. Jacobs is little known.

The first female university student and female physician in 19th century Netherlands, she is remembered today for several other pioneering actions including the establishment of the first birth-control clinic in the world, and leading the Dutch Women’s Suffrage Association for twenty-five years.

Our particular interest, however, is in her vision and eye for the future with her building one of the earliest, broadest and most useful single sources for the study of women’s history, now known as the Gerritsen Collection of Women's History. 

Discover more in our blog.

Online collection spotlight: The Malthusian, a collection in the Women’s Studies Archive

Portrait of Annie Besant (1849-1933); Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).

Overpopulation was a huge social problem in 19th century Britain. Trailblazers like Annie Besant were tireless campaigners for the improvement of living conditions, birth control, and women's rights.

The Malthusian, a collection in the Women's Studies Archive, gives us a vivid lens into the living conditions of the poor and a fascinating insight into the population issues from 1879 to 1921, which laid the groundwork for social reform in the twentieth century. 

Learn more in our Online Collection Spotlight.

2002: A space oddity

Frontispiece and title page for 2002: childlife one hundred years from now, [1902]. RARES 813.52 F4242

What do you think the world will look like one hundred years from now?

For American author Laura Dayton Fessenden, the future included a woman president, perpetual peace, monkeys as servants and clothing made of paper.

With the help of the Women Writers Fund, the Library recently acquired Laura Dayton Fessenden’s most fascinating work of speculative fiction, 2002: Childlife One Hundred Years From Now. Published in 1902, the children's science fiction novel explores, in fantastical detail, a utopian and technologically savvy society one century in the future.

Learn more about this important and interesting work.