Friday Feminist – Louisa Lawson (3)


What would you say if you saw these headlines in your morning paper? Yet why should you not see them? Wives suffer from long hours of work, low wages, lack of rest, and oppression, and women are citizens entitled to just such rights and privileges [as] are claimed by men, among these privileges being the right to cease work, and to make terms for the betterment of their condition.

Working men strike for higher wages, shorter hours, “smoke-ohs”, or in defence of one of their number unjustly or despotically treated, but though sensitive as to their own rights does it ever occur to them to think of the women? Is there any one member of all the affiliated trades who has reflected that there is another class more in need of union and of defensive leagues then he and his fellows. Never! The social constitution may be turned upside down and stood on its head so to speak, when men’s demands required hearing, but no one thinks of the women. Thousands of pounds are spent on organisation, circulating newspapers, bands, processions and free meals, and on the other side thousands on special services of constables and military, while the grievances of the men are being put to the test, but not a soul asks, “Have the women any claims?”

In point of fact even working men themselves stand in the position of employers, because just as under the wealthy there is the less powerful class of labour, so, subject to the social predominance of men, there are the women, weak, unorganised, and isolated.

Does a man concede to his employee wife, defined hours of rest, fair pay, just and considerate treatment? The wife’s hours of work have no limit. All day the house and at night the children. There is no Women’s Eight Hour Demonstration, though we can make a public holiday because the men have won this right. A wife has no time to think of her own life and development, she has no money to spend, it is “her husband’s money”, the complete right to her own children is not yet legally hers, and she is not even in independent possession of her own body.

Surely it must be admitted that she needs the protection of a union as much as a working man.

What is a wife’s pay? It is certainly what no union would allow any member to accept from any employer. She did not marry for pay, you may urge. True, but her work is worth as much as the man’s. He married her to share equally in his disasters as in his successes, and if she has to suffer with him in troubled times, surely she has a right to share equally when finances are sound. “She gets food, lodging and clothes?” Yes, but who else could be hired day and night for a lifetime on those terms.

Louisa Lawson, editorial in The Dawn, November 1890, in Olive Lawson (ed.), The First Voice of Australian Feminism: Excerpts from Louisa Lawson’s The Dawn 1888 – 1895, Simon and Schuster, 1990.

This will be my last quote from Louisa Lawson. I’ve been enjoying reading Olive Lawson’s book of extracts from Louisa Lawson’s newspaper, but in fairness to her and to her publishers, I must stop, well before I hit the fair-use limits. I urge you to hunt out this book in your local library, or to buy a copy for yourself if you can find one. I’m fascinated by the topics Louisa Lawson tackled, by her robust language, and her fearless advocacy for women, and saddened by the extent to which many of the same issues still engage us today, 120 years later.


One response to “Friday Feminist – Louisa Lawson (3)

  1. “the extent to which many of the same issues still engage us today.” Indeed. I fantasised about Honest John Key making a speech about the value of mothers in the wake of the shameful solo-mother shamefest. You know, about who really are the most productive people in society, unpaid, on-call 24/7, enabling their families to flourish – and usually squeezed in around their “real” work, the paid stuff, too. That’s still @least 12% behind blokes’ rates & heavily slanted towards service. Sometimes I think feminism just got disemboweled and the entrails served back up on a plate with a pretty bow on it. Bah!