University of Tasmania
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Emily's empire : Emily Dobson and the National Council of Women of Tasmania, 1899-1939

posted on 2023-05-26, 03:35 authored by Jordan, RC
Tasmanian women began to assert their right to participate in the public sphere in the mid 1880s and this continued into the mid-1930s even though this period, labelled as first wave feminism, is traditionally dated to 1914 in the western world. The National Council of Women of Tasmania (NCWT), established in 1899, was an umbrella organisation made up of delegates from affiliated organisations. Its stated aim was to establish a dialogue between women's organisations working for the betterment of the community and to co-ordinate their activities, but in practice this was not always the case. Between 1904 and 1934 the NCWT was under the presidency of Emily Dobson, a formidable woman, who perhaps helped and perhaps hindered the work of the Council. Emily Dobson's agenda became the Council's and for thirty years she appeared to manipulate this most influential of Tasmanian women's organisations. Although the Council's objective was to produce discussion in the philanthropic community, this did not stop it from trying to work in the community through challenging the status quo for women, influencing legislation and implementing programmes designed to help women and children. These attempts at work did not amount to much. The NCWT produced little that could be called a tangible achievement in the forty year period studied. This causes some problems in the analysis of the Council. If it had attempted no work then it could easily be concluded that it only meant to act as a facilitator for discussion between other organisations. Because it did attempt work and apparently failed in several areas, then the Council must be viewed differently. But the importance of the National Council is not simply shown in the work it did or did not produce. The National Council was critical for both the evolution of feminism in Tasmania and in the personal evolution of its women members. It was women like the National Council members who were conservative and determined to work within the male system rather than challenge that system, who were able to pave the way for the second wave of feminism. The National Council of Women of Tasmania under the firm hand of Emily Dobson was among the first proponents of women's rights in Tasmania and the importance of this should not be dismissed.


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