Jessie Mary Vasey

Founder of the War Widows' Guild

Inducted:
2001
Category:
Honour Roll

Jessie Mary Herbert was born at Roma, Queensland on 19 October 1897. When the family moved to Victoria, she attended Lauriston Girls’ School until 1913 before becoming a weekly boarder at the Methodist Ladies College, Kew. While living at Kew she met her future husband, George Alan Vasey and the couple were married in May 1921 and had two children, George and Robert. While her husband was away in Europe, Jessie became involved in many organisations including the AIF Women’s Association and had the idea of establishing flats for war widows. In March 1945, just four months before the World War II ended, Major General George Vasey, having survived Crete Libya and the Kokoda Trail, was killed in an aircraft accident off the coast of Queensland. Jessie became a war widow.

The War Widows’ Craft Guild was established and although it supported groups such as the RSL and Legacy, in 1951 it purchased its first property which was renovated and turned into eight bedsitting rooms. By 1963, the Guild had created £1million worth of housing throughout Australia.

Jessie died in 1966 on the way home from a holiday in Cairns and after a service in the Toorak Presbyterian Church, she was buried at Lilydale Cemetery beside her son George. Later her other son, Robert commissioned Andor Mesxaros to make a plaque for her grave. It depicts a woman turning to other women who are clasping their children and bowed in grief. Her legacy was the 326 flats scattered on eleven blocks of land around Melbourne, giving better security at low cost to many women. She provided the inspiration for all other Guild Housing schemes that flourish throughout Australia. Jessie had led and worked tirelessly for the Guild for twenty years and received a CBE in 1963.

The War Widows Guild was founded by women of vision and run in the principles of human rights and human dignity. They had to fight hard to enforce the right of the widows to support their commandability for practical and persistent support. Jessie’s advice to War Widows was ‘Think Big!...Tell that man behind the desk he’s there to help you!’ Advice that still applies today.

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