Henrietta Dugdale

Henrietta Augusta Dugdale (1826-1918), feminist, was born in London, probably in 1826, daughter of John Worrell. She married young and arrived at Melbourne in 1852 with her husband, whose name was Davies. After his death she married William Dugdale; a son and two daughters were born to this marriage. About 1905 she married Frederick Johnson.

Mrs Dugdale was a pugnacious pioneer of the women's movement, a member of the Eclectic Society formed in the 1870s to discuss controversial subjects, and of the Australasian Secular Association. She was president of the first Victorian Women's Suffrage Society formed on 22 June 1884. With ready words and biting wit she wrote and spoke in the feminist cause. She firmly believed in evolutionary progress and the perfectibility of mankind, which to her could only be achieved through the disciplined control of human nature by reason and the cooperation and equality of the sexes. Her Utopian vision was outlined in a booklet, A Few Hours in a Far Off Age (1883), which she dedicated to George Higinbotham 'in earnest admiration for the brave attacks made by that gentleman upon what has been, during all known ages, the greatest obstacle to human advancement, the most irrational, fiercest and most powerful of our world's monsters - the only devil - male ignorance'. The brutality and darkness of her own age she attributed not only to male ignorance and vanity but also to liquor and the illiterate working classes. The emancipation of her sex was to be the primary solution and she exhorted women to throw off their chains, discard their apathy and learn self respect. The weapon of emancipation was the suffrage whereby women could achieve equal social, legal and political privileges with men. Progress also involved elevating the working classes through a more equitable distribution of wealth and the introduction of the eight-hour day. She condemned the monarchy as a reactionary institution constricting human advancement and she bitterly opposed imperial federation; Christianity was another despotism formed by men to humiliate women, and most Christians were intolerant hypocrites. She described herself as a believer in 'true ethics' rather than religious morality.

Mrs Dugdale met much opposition from conservatives. When she advocated reform of women's dress some accused her of sacrificing her modesty, and when she declared that women should have a place in politics others declared she was attempting to win notoriety and self glory; yet she established the pattern of demands for female emancipation in Victoria. She stirred many women into positive action to achieve their rights and to gain access to the professions. A member of a Victorian group of radical, free-thinking women, she believed in temperance, birth control and 'applying the surgeon's knife to rapists'. Although sometimes melodramatic and emotional, she was forceful and assertive in arguing for women's rights. She was an excellent chess player, did her own carpentry, designed and made her own 'rational' dress with a divided skirt, and cut her hair short. She was a vegetarian, growing and cooking most of her own food. She died at Point Lonsdale on 17 June 1918 aged 91.

Janice Brownfoot

Rebels and Radicals edited by Eric Fry 1983 ch 9..