Henry's Mother - Louisa Lawson
Some Sons Do 'Ave 'Em
...Mothers, that is.
This is the story of one particularly special mother - a Woman of Words of the 1800's - Louisa Albury Lawson.
Louisa was not the first Australian women's periodical publisher, but her indomitable spirit and fiery honesty saw her overcome formidable odds to achieve her dream of creating a periodical produced solely by women.
Throughout her life her writing, publications and actions combined to deepen her commitment to passionately fighting for women's rights in many arenas.
Photo courtesy of PIP WILSON http://www.wilsonsalmanac.com
...and Early Marriage
Louisa Lawson was born the second of twelve children, near Mudgee NSW in 1848 and educated at the Mudgee school. Despite considerable talent and her teacher's wish for her to pursue the same career, she was kept home to help care for her younger siblings - an inevitable duty for an eldest daughter in those days. Her experience was sadly shared by other talented and determined women like Marie E.J. Pitt, Mary Fullerton, and Rosa Praed (albeit on a different socio-economic level).
For Louisa, the least of her burden was the drudgery this involved, compared with her Mother forbidding any training of her fine voice - and then, actually burning Louisa's early poetry!
At just 18, she married Peter Lawson and they joined the Weddin Mountain gold rush, later taking up a 16 ha. selection at Eurunderee, near Mudgee. Initially, this may have seemed an escape for Louisa, but in the next decade, she would give birth to five children, and need to support and raise them almost single-handedly, on this lonely, barren property.
She took in sewing, sold dairy produce, fattened cattle, opened a store and ran a post office to make ends meet, as her husband was a sporadic provider, constantly absent on the goldfields or with contract work. Amongst her family members, there was a strongly held belief that she was the inspiration of much of her famous son, Henry's many writings featuring lonely, hard-working, resourceful and long-suffering bushwomen.
The harsh country and extreme seasons created the need for many men to seek a livelihood far from home, often resulting in a loss of focus on whom and what the money was actually intended and needed for. Certainly this seems to have been the case in the Lawson family.
When he was 'at home', Peter not only discouraged Louisa's poetry, but then, following advice from her mother, when her dreamy nature interfered with his concept of her domestic duties, he too destroyed her written works. Can you picture them - just tossed into the fire? No backup copies anywhere in her home - in those days.
It is widely believed that her courage at this time became the model for 'The Drover's Wife' the poem that her famous son Henry would write many years later.
"The Mother of Womanhood Suffrage" - Louisa Lawson and Son
Photo courtesy of - http://www.flickr.com/photos/pipwilson/
Despite all family discouragement, she managed to publish some poetry - her first, poignant publication, 'My Nettie', was written in 1878 following the death of her infant twin daughter, Annette. Isolation, poverty and limited medical treatment meant the odds were against surviving infancy and/or childhood. Little wonder women bore so many babies - only a small number would be expected to reach healthy maturity.
Finally, it was drought that forced Louisa to move with the children to Sydney. Her marriage had actually ended, due to husband Peter sending money too irregularly for the barest family support. Once again, she had to raise the necessary finances, this time taking in washing and sewing and boarders. Inadequate Government recognition and support of impoverished families saw many women doing the same, and worse.
Against all odds
...four years later
... this remarkable bush woman acquired a small press and became part publisher with eldest son, Henry - of the cheeky REPUBLICAN - an aggressive nationalist and anti-monarchist paper, supporting labour against capital. Within one year, she had also founded one of the notable periodicals of Australian history:
A Journal for Australian Women
The uniqueness of Louisa's achievement at this time in history, was because most women proprietors inherited their newspapers following the deaths of their husbands, and just a few were wealthy enough to self-fund and supplement the income of their ventures, as did Maybanke Susannah Wolstenholme.
Throughout the seventeen year history of her periodical, Louisa was successful in attracting enough advertising to enable issues up to forty pages long to be sold for only threepence (not even 5 cents in today's currency) . No other female-owned publication enjoyed this success or longevity.
Now an even more amazing phase of her life unfolded, as she fulfilled those dreams nearest and dearest to her heart - DAWN existed, employing ten women by its second year. Despite beliefs that it couldn't be done; despite physical opposition, threats and action by men opposed to her dream; once again, against all odds, she had achieved one of her most cherished dreams.
Using the new and far-reaching voice of DAWN as a vehicle, Louisa covered such diverse subjects as - rights and sisterhood; education and employment opportunities for women; need for government funding for creches, and support for education of needy children; motherhood, diet and exercise; short fiction & poetry; fashion and home-making; marriage and divorce reform.
'THE DAWN' - ...of a Journal - and of a new era for women.
Actually, you can't read that...even with the Hubble telescope!
So I've been exceptionally kind and slaved over a hot keyboard -
A JOURNAL FOR THE HOUSEHOLD
Edited by Louisa Lawson at ??? Phillip Street, Sydney
Registered at the General Post Office, Sydney, for transmission by post as a newspaper.
VOL. XVII. No. 9 SYDNEY, JANUARY 4, 1904 Price 3d: 3/- Per Annum
THE NOTABLE SIXTEENTH
The sun rose on the morning of the sixteenth upon the greatest day that ever dawned for woman in Australia for, apart from the pleasure of exercising the just privilege so long denied her, that of taking an active and direct part in the election of lawmakers, she had also the blessed satisfaction of being seen as she is - not through the glasses of those interested in her suppression. It has been admitted by Press and people that her attitude upon polling day came as a surprise, and ought to be the means of making her reckless critics exercise greater care as self-appointed judges of what she would or would not do under certain conditions. At present they have and will have in future to speak for themselves, as women have now the opportunity of doing. Apparently those who have forced their opinions upon an unthinking and over-credulous public for so long have just one rag of comfort to flutter, and that is the allegation that women are not in favour or returning one of their sex to Parliament. No really representative woman besides Mrs. Martel offered herself, and she did not make her mind until three weeks before the contest took place, and by that time all the women's leading leagues were pledged to support the ones selected, who inundated the State with circulars, besides having the support of the metropolitan Press as a means of unlimited advertisement.
Added to this Mrs. Martel suffered much misrepresentation from an action in which her enemies for interested reasons unduly involved her: and last, but not least, being a self-supporting woman she spent little for electioneering purposes. The marvel therefore, is that under these untoward circumstances she won the support she did in the face of a hostile Press. As a matter of principle we are proud to acknowledge that we supported her, as we would, and will in future, support any woman seeking a seat in our Legislature whose life is clean and whose principles are sound.
With desolation this world is desolate; because woman has not thought aright; because the voice of woman has not been heard in our senate nor in our judgment halls; because woman has allowed her birthright of freedom to be wrested from her, has consented to be accounted only a creature of sex, a satellite of man; because woman has allowed her personality, her individuality of mind and body to be enslaved, to be made subject altogether to a creature like unto herself; because - shame of all shames? - she has permitted injustice, cruelty, immortality, to walk the earth rampant while she has lowered her head - which ought to have been lifted high: hushed her voice - which ought to have resounded through the earth, to the indignity and domination and man-enforced and self-enforced silence.
(I don't know about you, but her words create moisture in my visual area!)
Stylish and Smart
Her style of writing was unique - strong and yet sensitive, compelling and thought-provoking - and always championing the cause of women. To quote Louisa:-
'Did you ever think what it was to be a woman and have to try to make a living by yourself, with so many men's hands against her?
It's all right if she puts herself under the thumb of a man - she's respectable then;
but woe betide her if she strikes out for herself and tries to compete with men on what they call 'their own ground'.
Who made it their ground?'
A Dedicated Woman
...and children's author, too!
Other noteworthy pursuits included:
- founding the DAWN Club (a social reform club for women);
- being on the Council of Womanhood Suffrage League (and printing its literature for free, plus being a regular speaker);
- and becoming a member of the Board of Management of the Sydney School of Arts Debating Club.
Sadly, Louisa was little known, recognised or appreciated as a prolific children's writer.
Apart from a Children's Page in DAWN, (with puzzles, articles, stories - including compositions by children), she also published short stories, founded two children's periodicals, and wrote a lengthy imaginative work 'DERT & DO' - about the adventures and deaths of two children.
Photo of back cover of his book courtesy of author, Pip Wilson
All Good Things Must Come to an End
...but did it have to be SO sad?
Louisa Lawson was a truly exceptional human being, rising above all obstacles to achieve her fiercest ambitions.
If I were asked what I most desire in this world I think my answer would be:
"to be known to my countrywomen"'
While remaining politically active, she was slowed down somewhat by a tram accident (and being bedridden for several months). After a lengthy legal case, DAWN lost its owner, its former vitality and inventiveness - and in 1905 it closed its doors forever.
Subsequent family problems proved too much to cope with, and Louisa retired to Marrickville, (near Sydney, NSW) supporting herself as a freelance writer.
She gradually became more impoverished, until her death in the Gladesville Hospital for the Insane in 1920 - a tragic ending for this courageous and dedicated Woman of Words - but perhaps she expressed her purpose in life best, when she said:
''I cannot be yours or any man's.
I am my own and God's"
...see what others say.
Make a cuppa, get yourself really comfy - and then sit back and ENJOY! ...you won't regret a read of these!
Here's ALL about it in Pip Wilson's book -
Louisa and Henry Lawson and the Castlereagh Street Push'.
She struggled to get women the vote.
Her son was Australia's most famous writer.
They drove each other crazy.