Ailsa O'Connor

Ailsa O'Connor linked her art to society, both the themes she developed in her art and in the essays she wrote to explain the role of art in society.

Honour Roll

Ailsa O'Connor was born in Victoria in 1921. When she began her art training there were only five art teachers in training for the whole of Victoria.

Like many other women at the time she put her own struggles aside to campaign for humanitarian causes. Ailsa, and her associates who founded the Union of Australian Women, lived the feminist principle that 'politics is the personal'.

Like many other women for years her 'bit of sketching' had to fit round the edges of family and work, the struggle to survive. While for many years she was an art teacher in government secondary schools, including Flemington High, she also found time to organise the Asian Australian Child Art Exchange in 1953-56 - a brave attempt to counter the Cold War and anti-Asian climate of the time. Later she exhibited her drawings and sculptures, completing a number of commissions.

Her sculpture 'Mary Gilbert' - representing the blacksmith's wife who was the first immigrant woman to settle in Melbourne - was purchased by the City of Melbourne in 1975 and is on display in the Fitzroy Gardens.

Another piece is in the collection of St Catherine's Girls' Grammar School. Ailsa died in her late fifties, her potential not fully realised. Fifty years ago, Ailsa was a founding member of the Union of Australian Women and remained active on behalf of working women till her death in 1980.