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Jessie Street

In 1945, Jessie Street was the first Australian woman delegate to the United Nations.

Honour Roll

Jessie Street was born on 18 April 1889, the eldest of three children born in India to a father who worked in the Indian Civil Service. Her mother, Mabel, inherited 'Yulgilbar' station in New South Wales in 1896 so the family moved there.

Jessie was educated by governesses and in England before studying for a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1910. She was interested in the women's movement and sport and was a founding member of the Sydney University Women's Sport Association. She also attended the International Alliance of Women Conference in Rome in 1911 and Geneva in 1914. In 1916, she married Kenneth Whistler Street whom she had met at university when he was studying law. Over the next decade they had three children and Kenneth went on to become a Justice of the Supreme Court, then Chief Justice of New South Wales.

In 1918, she joined the League of Nations Union and was also Secretary to the National Council of Women and a member of the Feminist Club. By 1929, she felt there was a need for a stronger organisation to campaign for women's needs, so she established the United Associations of Women (UAW) hoping it would be an umbrella organisation for others with similar aims. She was founding president for the next twenty years. The UAW assisted campaigns for female teachers to overturn legislation forbidding them to work once married and campaigned for wages for housewives and equal pay for women.

Jessie was also involved in drafting the Australian Women's Charter in 1943 which articulated women's needs. The following year she led a delegation of thirteen women who presented the Charter to parliament. As a result of her long-standing interest in the League of Nations, Jessie was invited as the only Australian woman delegate to the conference which helped establish the United Nations Organisation. She helped found its Status of Women Commission and was Australia's representative on it in 1947-48.

A member of the Labor Party since 1939, by 1949 she had been tainted with accusations of being a 'communist', so she was replaced on the Commission. She was prominent in the Women for Canberra movement and herself stood unsuccessfully for parliament on two occasions, 1943 and 1949. She was one of the Labor women of outstanding talent who was constantly passed over for a winnable seat.

Jessie spent much of the 1950s outside of Australia, liaising with women's movements around the world. On her return she attended the foundation meeting of the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship in 1957 which became part of the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement. Over the next decade she campaigned vigorously for constitutional rights for Aboriginal people. She travelled the world attending conferences on peace and women's issues.

In 1966, she published her autobiography, Truth or Repose. Her son Laurence followed in his father's footsteps in becoming a judge, then a Chief Justice of New South Wales. Jessie died on 2 July 1970.