International Women’s Day

Louisa Adams

Her head stone reads….

Louise Allwood Adams 1881 -1964

To the world she was one,

but to us – the world.

This goes part way to extolling the wonders of my mother. She knew more than her share of adversity along the pathway of life, with her keen sense of humour being a decided asset. Listing her praises is only restricted by the limitations of the English language.

Having lost her mother and stepmother at the age of nine, she more or less, ‘earned her keep’ with domestic service in the homes of various relatives. In all, she attended thirteen schools for various periods which concluded at the age of twelve.

Her father was involved with political activities in the formation of the Labor party and building unionism in the shearing sheds throughout the state.

The great escape came (- or did it?), when at the age of nineteen she married the man of her dreams. He was of the generation who considered women little more than chattels.

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Her childbearing prowess was put to the test with a total of fifteen children and numerous miscarriages in between, often as a result of physical violence. The attitude of her ‘Lord and Master’ being that he had done his duty when the child was conceived, hence accepting no financial obligations, as the Benevolent Society at the time could well and truly testify.

Poor but happy were her brood. Thanks to the love, care and guidance of their mother who I suspect may have invented child psychology. She was never negative. Luxuries were prohibitive. The promise that our dreams would be realized when ‘her ship came in’ afforded us great hope. This was tantamount to winning the lottery.

As her family grew so did her political interests. A staunch hardworking member of the A.L.P, she became very active, finding herself involved in agitation for legislation allied with the ‘Married Women’s Property Act’ to counteract the entitlement of the sewing machine only being the wife’s property after a marriage breakup.

She also campaigned for ‘Equal Guardianship of the Children’, the ownership of children being the father’s almost divine right. Her rallying call was ‘We go into the valley of death to bring our children into the world and are entitled to equal guardianship’. It was not uncommon for the father to use his ownership of the children as a weapon, should the mother fail to do his bidding. Understandably ‘Baby Bonus and Child Endowment’ were high on the agitation list too as social services were far less than is the situation today.

At no time did she neglect her family, earning five shillings per day for her domestic services when able. My birth would have been typical. She had scrubbed the large tiled verandah, and then continued with the household washing fuel copper. Before the clothes could be hung out, she had to excuse herself to go home (promising to send one of her big girls along, to complete the chore.) Three hours later, I was born.

She struggled through the Depression, always extending a helping hand where she could and very involved in the Unemployment Movement. She limped along during the war. Two daughters and six sons were in the Services, an achievement of which she was very proud. Her pride increased as she watched her children develop into fine citizens and the arrival of 21 grand children.

It was devastating when her husband sold his house (in which ten children had been born) over their heads in 1938 leaving them trespassing and in procession of an eviction order from the new owner. The compensating factor was that when he departed with the proceeds of the sale, a cloud of depression lifted in his wake. He received the respect he deserved: exactly nil.

Despite the hurdles which life presented, she came through with flying colours; humble beginnings and limited education other than the ‘University of Adversity’. As a mother, social being and concerned citizen she would have no equal.

Being appointed as a Justice of The Peace afforded her much pleasure and her pride increased when five members of her family followed this example in ‘service to mankind’.

To the world she was one,
But to us – the world”

Story contributed by Jean Wurlod.

A story from the Tapestry collection at the Jessie Street National Women's Library.