JavaScript is required

Louisa Lawson

Louisa Lawson was the first Australian woman to publish a radical magazine for women.

Honour Roll

Louisa Lawson was born on 17 February 1848, on an outback station near Mudgee, New South Wales. She was the second of twelve children born to Henry Albury, a station hand and his wife Harriet, a needlewoman. She was educated at Mudgee National School but had to stay home and look after her siblings, instead of learning to teach.

In 1866, she married a Norwegian-born handyman and gold digger. Between 1867 and 1877, Lawson gave birth to five children, but her husband, Peter, was often away at the goldfields or contract building. Louisa Lawson moved to Sydney with her children in 1883 and Peter sent money irregularly. Her father had a gift for story-telling which she had inherited, and some of her poems had been published in the Mudgee Independent. In 1887, she bought the Republican, an ailing newspaper, for which she and her son, Henry, wrote and edited most of the copy.

In 1888, she started the magazine Dawn, to publicise women's wrongs, fight their battles and sue for suffrage. It combined reporting on women's issues with household advice, fashion, poetry and short stories. Louisa included her own political editorial and created an instant commercial success. She employed ten women including printers and they were taking on other jobs to subsidise the magazine. She ran into trouble with the New South Wales Typographical Association which refused membership for women and tried to force her to dismiss her printers. But Louisa succeeded and therefore her venture was unique in being almost completely staffed by women.

Through her magazine, Louisa championed many causes for women and particularly working women. In 1889, she launched a campaign for female suffrage and established the Dawn Club where women could meet to discuss reforms and gain experience in public speaking. She argued for professions to open their doors to women, particularly for women to be working as lawyers, doctors, prison wardens, factory inspectors and magistrates. She urged parents to educate their daughters so that they could be more independent. She was instrumental in the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales.

Louisa was thrown from a tram and badly injured in 1900. She lost some of her vitality and in 1905 Dawn closed. She was also devastated by her son Henry's alcoholism. Unfortunately, the last fifteen years of her life were increasingly lonely and impoverished. She lived alone and suffered bouts of depression and the onset of senile dementia. In 1920, her other son, Peter, admitted her to a hospital for the insane. She lived out her final six months in this decrepit state and was given a pauper's funeral upon her death in August 1920. The only memorial is a block of housing commission flats in North Bondi.