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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Women's Sanitary Association

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Sanitation and public health, temperance and suffrage were the three areas where women attempted to alter Tasmanian society in the 1890s.

Poor sanitary conditions in Hobart had led to a series of typhoid epidemics in the 1880s. Council inertia and inaction from an all-male Sanitary Association forced a response from concerned women. A meeting was convened in 1891, chaired by the govenor's wife, Lady Hamilton, who told the packed audience of women that their highest duty was to guard the health of their husbands, for man's life and income plus 'all those gentle clinging souls who depend on him' relied on it.

A committee of influential women was formed including Maud Montgomery (the Bishop's wife) and Emily Dobson, who urged that 'we have to protest … let us cast off our proverbial lethargy'. Unprecedented activity followed, with large petitions (over 5,000 signatures) presented to the Council and the House of Assembly.

The Women's Sanitary Association campaigned for reform for five years: visited houses distributing information, reported unsanitary arrangements to the Council, met frequently to give reports and lectures, wrote letters and interviewed authorities.

By 1900 however, the president acknowledged their limited success. Despite attempting to show their work as truly Christian and feminine, they had drawn much criticism and ridicule for stepping outside the private sphere of home and family in their challenge to male authority.

From 1900 the Association became the Women's Health Association, with more socially acceptable activity: papers were read at quarterly meetings.

Reference:

Alexander, A., The Public Role of Women in Tasmania, 1803-1914, Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Tasmania, 1989

This entry was researched and written by Wendy Rimon, B.A.


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