Bessie Rischbieth OBE

In 1921, Bessie Rischbieth founded the Australian Federation of Women's Societies.

Honour Roll

Bessie was born in Adelaide on 16 October, 1874. In her home, the discussions about Federation and social issues strengthened Bessie's political convictions. She married a wool merchant in 1898 and moved to Western Australia.

She was a founding member of the Children's Protection Society in 1906 and joined the Women's Service Guilds of Western Australia, becoming its president from 1911-22. Through the Guilds important institutions for women were established, such as the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women, free kindergartens and a training college. Many other causes such as basic wages, equal pay for women, women police and female prisoner rights were promoted by the guilds.

Bessie was the 'prime mover' and founding president of the Australian Federation of Women's Societies in 1921, a role she held until 1942. She attended conferences, both interstate and overseas and edited the monthly journal, 'The Dawn'. She was active in many international organisations, including roles as co-founder and vice-president of the British Commonwealth League of Women in 1925 and leader of the Australian delegation to the Pan-Pacific Women's Conference in Honolulu in 1928.

In 1935, she was granted an OBE and had joined the board of the International Alliance of Woman for Suffrage and Equal Citizenship in 1926. A strong-minded woman who lived in style in Peppermint Grove, Bessie strove for social reform through legislation, not revolution, and this pitted her against the more left-wing feminists. She published a history of the early women's movement, March of Australian Women: A Record of Fifty Years' Struggle for Equal Citizenship (1964). This was the first known history of feminism in Australia.

Bessie died in Bethesda Hospital, Claremont on 13 March 1967.