JavaScript is required

Margaret Cuthberston

Margaret Cuthberston became the first female inspector of factories in Australia in 1894.

Honour Roll

Margaret Cuthbertson was born on 6 September 1864, in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria. Her father was a contractor from England while her mother had come from Edinburgh. Margaret entered the Victorian Public Service in July 1888 as a telephone switchboard attendant in the Postmaster General's Department. She arrived there with experience in factory work, so in March 1894, she was appointed to the newly created position of female inspector of factories, the first woman in Australia to hold such a position.

There were 11,104 women working in registered factories and Cuthbertson supervised their general accommodation, ventilation and sanitary conditions and investigated pay rates, hours of work and conditions of apprenticeship. A year later she had two assistants. In 1897, Margaret was providing valuable assistance as secretary of the Clothing Board, a wage board designed to regulate wages in sweated trades. By 1907, she was secretary of six such boards. In 1898, she contributed to the investigation of Victoria's pioneering factory laws and in 1900 she became a Senior Inspector.

The government sent her to the UK in 1912 to find suitable women who wanted to migrate to Victoria to work. She co-authored a book, Woman's Work (1913), which detailed the nature, terms and conditions of employment available to women. Margaret Cuthbertson became first president of the Victorian Women's Public Service Association in 1901 and the following year represented it at the newly formed National Council of Women of Victoria. They worked to improve prison conditions for women and to establish the Talbot Epileptic Colony.

Margaret lent support to the Free Kindergarten Union, founded in 1908, which aimed to provide facilities for 'slum children'. She also worked with Vida Goldstein to assist unemployed women during World War I. In 1920, Margaret resigned as Inspector of Factories in order to work elsewhere but she continued her welfare work for women and children. She served on the board of the Queen Victoria Hospital and was treasurer of the Yooralla Hospital for Crippled Children.

On 17 November 1944, Margaret died after a long illness. An obituary in The Age paid tribute to her 'valuable work in safeguarding the rights and well-being of woman and girl workers in the days when Victoria was becoming known as the leading industrial State in Australia'.