Readers have asked me about the real people who appear in 1917. Here are just a few of them – some faces from the Home Front.
Vida Goldstein (1869-1949). Vida’s life as an activist began in 1890 when she helped her mother collect signatures for the Woman Suffrage Petition, and over the next decade she became deeply involved in a range of political and benevolent groups, especially focused on the fight for women’s right to vote.
After some women were granted the vote in federal elections in 1902, she was one of four women who were the first in the British Empire to stand for election to a national parliament – as a candidate for the Senate in 1903. To agitate for the vote in the states, she formed the Women’s Political Association (WPA) and ran a newspaper, the Woman’s Sphere. In 1908 Victoria granted (some) women the vote, and after that victory, Vida made four more attempts to gain election to Federal Parliament: in 1910 and 1917 for the Senate and in 1913 and 1914 for the House of Representatives, always as an independent, and ran The Woman Voter newspaper.
When the Great War began, she focused her energy on campaigning for peace and later against conscription, and working on a range of issues that affected women and children. She formed the Women’s Peace Army in 1915, a women’s unemployment bureau in 1915-16 and the Women’s Rural Industries, which ran the Mordialloc Women’s Farm. In 1919, with Cecilia John, she attended the Women’s Peace Conference in Zurich. After the war, Vida continued to argue for disarmament and peace, as well as birth control and other measures towards equality.
The federal electorate of Goldstein is named in her honour.
Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography and That Dangerous and Persuasive Woman, Jeanette Bomford, Melbourne University Press, 1993.
Cecilia John (1877-1955) was a feminist, agriculturalist, music and dance teacher and opera singer. As a young woman, she built and ran a poultry farm at Deepdene, to pay for her musical training, and later helped run the Women’s Farm with her friend Ina Higgins. She was an acclaimed performer on the Melbourne stage, but once war broke out she devoted her energy to the Women’s Peace Army, and later on to the Children’s Peace Army.
One of Vida Goldstein’s closest friends, she managed The Woman Voter and they travelled together around the country and overseas to promote peace and women’s activism. She sang the anti-war song, ‘I Didn’t Raise My Son to be a Soldier’ so often at public demonstrations and meetings that the song was banned, and she was also once charged under censorship laws for ordering banned anti-conscription leaflets. After the war and her visit to Geneva in 1919 with Vida, she became involved with the Save the Children Fund and the fight against poverty.
Adela Pankhurst (1885-1961) was the youngest of the famous Pankhurst family of suffragettes, all of whom campaigned for the vote in Britain before the war. Once war broke out, the family split – Mrs Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel wholeheartedly supported the war, while sisters Sylvia and Adela did not. Adela was packed off, alone, to Melbourne with only £20 to her name, and quickly joined Vida Goldstein and the WPA in their campaign against the war. She was a brilliant public speaker and became a committed socialist. In 1917 she spent some time in prison for speaking at banned rallies and refusing to stay silent about food shortages.
I wasn’t able to include all the complexity of Adela’s year in the novel, but by the end of 1917 she had married unionist Tom Walsh, spent several months in prison, and split with the WPA to join the socialists – although she continued to speak at WPA rallies against conscription.
In later years, Adela and Tom were founding members of the Australian Communist Party but later moved to the right, with Adela even being briefly interned in 1942 for her friendship towards Japan.
And last, but most certainly not least…
My gorgeous great aunts Connie and Madge, who indirectly inspired the character of Maggie.
I’ll write more about my family’s connection to these stories one day soon.
Next episode: some of the real pilots and soldiers featured in 1917. Stay tuned.