In her gift: activism and altruism in Australian women's philanthropy 1880-2005
AffiliationArts - School of Historical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsLemon, B. (2008). In her gift: activism and altruism in Australian women's philanthropy 1880-2005. PhD thesis, Arts - School of Historical Studies, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2008 Dr. Barbara Lemon
This thesis examines the experiences of Australian women philanthropists who donated money to social causes and public institutions in the decades from the late nineteenth to the beginning of the twenty-first century. In a colonial society where wealth generation and its disposal was essentially the province of men, a small but significant number of women who were wives and daughters of men of substance found themselves in a position to use family resources for their own chosen philanthropic ends. They did so in a context of colonial women's activism through women's associations, and derived motivation from their religious faith. Australian women's philanthropy drew upon British and American traditions. The remarkable wealth generation of the industrialising United States underwrote philanthropic women's very considerable donations, deployed with a moral authority that was fostered by evangelical Protestantism. Likewise, in Britain, evangelical work was supplemented by funding from elite wealthy women who could access familial fortunes. Australian women's philanthropy was distinctive because, despite the country's comparatively modest prosperity, the energetic and pragmatic association of women around philanthropic causes, often with a religious imperative, emboldened women of independent means to become exceptional givers. In the first half of the twentieth century, possibilities for women's active involvement in philanthropy expanded. Women in Australia gained political citizenship for federal elections in 1902, and by 1908, had been awarded political rights in each state. The 'new woman citizen' was able to assume a stronger profile in the workforce, in the professions and in business; social change that was mirrored in the activism of women philanthropists. Rapid economic growth after World War Two, and a developing national consciousness of the importance of philanthropic endeavours saw the backgrounds of women philanthropists diversify, just as a new women's movement arose to challenge and reshape women's public roles. There are undeniable continuities in women's philanthropy from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries: in direct giving and fundraising, in commitment to women's causes, and in the influence of religion. Nevertheless, by 2005, women were sustaining an unprecedented and outstanding presence, not only as individual philanthropists, but in the highest levels of decision-making in an arena increasingly referred to as the 'third sector' of the economy. They have assumed a central role in the growing number of Australian philanthropic foundations and in the shaping of policies on funding for social change. Moreover there are clear signs that the influence of women in philanthropy, as in other public spheres including mainstream politics, will amplify in future. In investigating the development of women's philanthropy in Australia, with a focus on those who had money within their gift, this thesis profiles over fifty women with specific reference to Mrs Anne Bon, Janet Lady Clarke, Mrs Ivy Brookes, Dr Una Porter, Ms Barbara Blackman, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, and Ms Jill Reichstein.
Keywordswomen; Australia; history; women philanthropists; altruism
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