Henrietta Dugdale

Henrietta Dugdale fought for women's emancipation in 1800s Australia.

Honour Roll

Henrietta Dugdale was born in London around 1826 and married at fourteen. In 1852, she arrived in Melbourne with her husband and by 1859 he had died. She then married William Dugdale, son of an English clergyman, with whom she had a son and two daughters. Around this time she began to be outspoken about the rights of women.

In 1869, The Argus published a letter she had written about extending the franchise to women, ideas which were considered revolutionary at the time. This letter was the first time a woman in Australia had spoken out in the public arena on emancipation.

In 1883, she published 'A Few Hours in a Far Off Age', a booklet which contained her ideas on the equality of the sexes. She wrote, "My suffering has been borne; no alteration of the laws could now benefit me; but there are thousands enduring the pain I have experienced through man's injustice, and thousands to follow before there be just legislation".

She blamed the current social problems on male ignorance, liquor and the illiteracy of the working class. She condemned the monarchy for restricting human advancement and attacked Christianity as despotism formed by men to humiliate women. She was a member of the Eclectics, a group devoted to the discussion of controversial subjects and the Australian Secular Association which attracted freethinkers on religious and moral questions.

Henrietta won a following among radicals and secularists but she clashed with conservatives. Nonetheless, she was first president of the Victorian Women's Suffrage Society, which she found in 1884, and fought side-by-side with the Christians to achieve emancipation. This group was actually the first women's suffrage association in Australia.

Henrietta also believed in 'rational dress' and wore a long tunic over loose trousers, known as 'bloomers' after Amelia Bloomer who first promoted the outfit. Henrietta cut her hair short, played chess, did her own carpentry and was a vegetarian who grew most of her own food. Henrietta married for the third time in 1903 at 77 years of age, having seen women win the vote. She was able to exercise this right several times before she died at Point Lonsdale on 17 June 1918, aged 91.