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Catherine Helen Spence: Timeline

A guide to Catherine Helen Spence featuring writings about her and a chronological bibliography of her works.



Born 31 October in Melrose, Scotland and educated in Edinburgh


Came to Australia with her family, living with her parents, and after her father died in 1846, with her mother, whom she supported


Became a governess, and was in charge of her own school within four years


Took up journalism and wrote under her brother's name for the Argus in Melbourne as a South Australian voice


First novel Clara Morison published


Left the Church of Scotland to join the Unitarian Church


Became concerned about electoral reform after reading a review by John Stuart Mill of Thomas Hare's system of proportional representation, and wrote a number of publications and articles on electoral reform, which she later called 'effective voting'


Travelled to England, meeting Mill and Hare to discuss her ideas, and met the novelist, George Eliot


Raised the children of her sister after she died, and then for the next 30 years helped to raise several families under her roof


Co-founded the Boarding Out Society and was an official until 1886 when it became the State Children's Council for whom she was an official and an active visitor of children until her death


The first woman to be placed in an official position by a South Australian Government on a local school board, and supported the establishment of the first government secondary school, the Advanced School for Girls, in 1879


Invited to write on social and literary issues for the Register under her own name, as well as many editorials, which she did until 1893


Preached her first sermon at the Unitarian Church


Devoted the last two decades of her life to campaigning for electoral reform and proportional representation, visiting nearly every electorate in city and country


Joined the fight for female suffrage and was vice-president of the Women's Suffrage League of SA


Travelled to Chicago, USA to address an international conference on charity, and other conferences, then lectured and preached to over 100 gatherings across the US, Great Britain and Switzerland


Formed the Effective Voting League of South Australia


Appointed to the Commission of Enquiry into the management and condition of the Adelaide Hospital, the first woman in Australia to participate in an official commission


Appointed as first women member of the Destitute Board, remaining until her death


Stood (unsuccessfully) as a candidate for the Federal Convention held in Adelaide, becoming Australia's first female political candidate


Chaired the management board of the SA Co-operative Clothing Company, a shirt-making factory owned and run by women


Attended the opening of the first Federal Parliament at the invitation of Alfred Deakin


Formed a short-lived South Australian branch of the International Council of Women


Helped form the Kindergarten system, and became vice-president of the Kindergarten Union


Witnessed the donation by her friends the Pethericks of their collection of books which formed the nucleus of the National Library of Australia


Chaired the meeting which formed the South Australian branch of the Women's Non-Party Political Association, which ultimately became the Women's Electoral Lobby


Died at Queen Street, Norwood on 3 April, with her hand in that of her beloved niece, Lucy Morice, and was buried at St Jude's Brighton Cemetery