Eleanor Glencross

Eleanor Glencross (1876-1950), political organiser, was born on 11 November 1876 in Sydney, eldest daughter of Eleanor (born Lyons) and Angus Cameron, carpenter and politician. She was educated at Cleveland St Public School and Miss Somerville's Ladies' College. She gained early political experience assisting her father, a liberal who had been elected in 1874 with trade union support. Eleanor soon had a reputation for eloquence. As political organiser for the Liberal and Reform Association, she travelled widely in New South Wales, and also to Queensland, to address political meetings. In 1911 she moved to Melbourne to become general secretary, chief speaker and organiser for the Australian Women's National League, which she left for the People's Liberal Party. She returned to Sydney in 1913 as women's organiser for the Liberal Association of New South Wales. On 14 March 1917 at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, she married Andrew William Glencross, grazier from Stawell. Her husband shared her political interests and from 1918 they were resident in Melbourne. She was in Melbourne in 1917 speaking in support of conscription.

Eleanor was a life-long supporter of liquor reform. She had a long association with the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, serving many years as Victorian president; she was active in the Victorian Prohibition League, the temperance committee of the Presbyterian church, and the Strength of Empire Movement, a postwar prohibition organisation.

During the war Eleanor had joined the newly formed Housewives' Association of Victoria. In 1919 she became president. The Association was aware of the potential power of women as the nation's consumers and attempted to mobilise this power for the benefit of all women. To assist working class women it formed food cooperatives, organised boycotts and lobbied governments about the cost of living. (Mrs Glencross was appointed to the Victorian royal commission into the high cost of living in 1923 as consumer representative.) Its fundamental concern was the status of the work undertaken by women. In asserting the importance of household management, the Association was seeking to endow housework with national importance. It emphasised the value of scientific home management and 'scientific spending'. In 1923 Mrs Glencross became president of the Federated Housewives' Association of Australia.

She was an executive member of the Victorian National Council of Women (from 1918) and president in 1927-28. She believed women should be encouraged to stand for election to public office and helped found the Women Citizens' Movement to support women candidates. She stood, unsuccessfully, for election for the federal seat of Henty in 1922, the Victorian seat of Brighton in 1928 (losing by only 531 votes), and the federal seat of Martin in 1943. In 1927 she was among the first Victorian women appointed justice of the peace.

On appointment to the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board in 1928, Mrs Glencross moved to Sydney. The incoming Labor government decided against her reappointment. After her husband's death in 1930, Eleanor returned to paid employment as political organiser for the National Association and later for the United Australia Party. She reformed the Housewives' Association as an incorporated company in 1938 and secured her own appointment as 'chairman' of directors. It was a divisive move which led to damaging allegations of 'arrangements' with manufacturers, and 'dictatorship'. In 1946 she was bankrupted by a defamation suit arising from the expulsion of a member of the Association but she retained her position on the board until her death on 2 May 1950.

Meredith Foley and Heather Radi

Double Time edited by Marilyn Lake and Farley Kelly 1985 ch 38.