Re-visiting the 1850s: The Australian Colonies' contribution to Women's Mid-century Momentum

From July 1858 to January 1859, the reading public in Sydney and to a lesser extent Melbourne was able to subscribe to The Spectator, which described itself as a Journal of Literature and Art For the Cultivation of the Memorable and the Beautiful. Edited by the enterprising but transient Cora Anna Weekes, who had arrived in Sydney after producing other short-lived journals in Texas and California, the Spectator presented its readers with a range of articles on gender relations and the status and condition of women. Debate on gender roles percolated across the Australian colonies in the 1850s. Related to questions of citizenship that were fundamental to the achievement of  Responsible Government, Australian colonial interest in women’s condition and relations between the sexes was shaped too by the contemporary international women’s movement. In the Australian colonies the gender debate had specific local inflections. This paper will consider the negotiation and articulation of gender difference at the time of the granting of colonial self-government. Demands raised in the Australian colonies joined the transnational clamour, adding volume and momentum to the mid-century women’s movement that is often overlooked in assumptions that ‘First Wave Feminism’ started later.

Angela Woollacott is the Manning Clark Professor of History. This paper is her half of an article that she is currently jointly writing with Dr Catherine Bishop for submission to a journal.  It is drawn from her book in progress Settler Society: Self-Government and Imperial Culture in the Australian Colonies, research for which has been funded by the ARC. Recent publications include her monograph Race and the Modern Exotic: Three ‘Australian’ Women on Global Display (Monash University Publishing, 2011) and, as Series Editor, History for the Australian Curriculum 4 vols. (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Date & time

Wed 14 Aug 2013, 4.15–5.30pm


McDonald Rooom Menzies Library

Event series


School of History


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