Jessie Mary Grey STREET, BA (08)

Feminist and Social Activist (1889-1970)

JessieStreetJESSIE MARY GREY STREET, feminist and social activist, was born in 1889 at Ranchi, Chota Nagpur, India, daughter of Charles Alfred Gordon Lillingston and Mabel Harriet (Ogilvie). The family moved to Australia in 1896 to take up residence at Yulgibar, Clarence River NSW. Jessie was educated at Wycombe Abbey School, England, then matriculated by private study in March 1908 and enrolled in Arts at the University of Sydney. She went into residence at Women’s College where one of her most vivid memories was of Principal Louisa Macdonald, ‘a wonderful woman’ who respected the rights of her students, especially their privacy. Women’s College brought Jessie into contact with other young women with an interest and enthusiasm for sport, particularly tennis and hockey. In 1908 she captained the University’s women hockey team and was instrumental in improving sporting facilities at the University throughout her academic life.

Jessie graduated Bachelor of Arts in 1912 already a strong exponent of women’s rights. In 1911 she attended a conference of the International Council for Women in Rome and was a foundation member of the Sydney Branch of the League of Nations Union in 1918. She attended League of Nations Assemblies in Geneva in 1930 and 1938, and was Australia’s only female representative of the United Nations founding conference at San Franciso in 1945 where she successfully lobbied for a charter of women’s rights. During World War II she gathered 92 feminist and worker organisations together to endorse a program of action of postwar reconstruction, which among other reforms called for equal pay, Constitutional amendment to invalidate legislation which discriminated on grounds of sex, and the payment of a personal endowment to mothers caring for young children.

Jessie Street represented Australia at the United Nations Economic and Social Council in 1946, and at the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women in 1947. She stood unsuccessfully for the House of Representative seat of Wentworth in 1943 and 1949. She was an effective lobbyist who was involved in a number of organisations including the United Association of Women. In later years she was outspoken on Aboriginal Rights and peace issues. She died in 1970 survived by her husband, Kenneth, and their four children, Belinda, Philippa, Roger and Sir Laurence Street.

Jessie Street, Documents and Essays, Sydney 1990
Brief Biography, SLNSW records
My History and Philosophy courses built up in me a sense of direction and a faith and self confidence which has developed with every experience. I do not believe in predestination but I do believe if people dedicate themselves to understanding the truth, if they courageously accept what they learn and keep their minds open, the scales will drop from their eyes and they will know the truth, and the path they must follow will show clearly before them. There is no truer saying than ‘The Truth shall set you free’, even if it does make you unpopular!

Jessie Street, Sydney University, 1912

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