Mary Windeyer

Mary Elizabeth Windeyer (1836-1912), charity organiser, was born in 1836 at Hove, England, one of nine children of Jane Bolton (born Ball) and Rev. Robert Thorley Bolton. They came to New South Wales in 1839 where her father ministered at Tarro Church, Hexham. On the 31 December 1857, Mary married William Charles Windeyer, barrister, only child of Maria Windeyer of 'Tomago', Raymond Terrace. After her husband's death in 1847, Maria managed 'Tomago' while William completed his education. She was a pious practical woman greatly loved by both her son and daughter-in-law.

William was hard-working, ambitious and a protégé of (Sir) Henry Parkes. He was elected to Parliament in 1860, and was later solicitor- general and attorney-general. He confided in Mary and she accepted the demands of public life. Returning in 1872 from Tomago with six young children, she told William: 'I would not for the world have you leave the house (of Assembly) to look after me', Alice will help with the children; she added the advice that he should distance himself from those seeking a dissolution.

Mary was a skilful organiser, deeply concerned for the welfare and health of children. (She lost a baby daughter in 1864.) A critic of large orphanages, she favoured 'boarding out', which her friend Emily Clark initiated in South Australia. William's report as royal commissioner on public charities (1873-74) reflected these views. Mary helped establish a foundling hospital in 1874 which subsequently was reorganised to admit women with illegitimate babies, becoming the Ashfield Infants' Home. She hoped it would reduce the incidence of infanticide.

For some months in 1874 she was seriously ill, staying with her children at 'Tomago'. She was again ill in 1876, the year in which the last of her nine children was born. Her daughter Margaret informed her father 'the cook said Ma was a very considerate little woman and like a doll beside Aunt Emily'. At this time she was reading Miss Cobbe's books.

Friendship with Lucy Osburn (q.v.) encouraged Mrs Windeyer's interest in hospital training. She corresponded with Emily Clark on science and religion (she had experimented with spiritualism) and asked advice on initiating 'boarding out'. With Marian Jefferis and Helen Garran, she opened a cottage home for orphans, but her aim was to win Parkes to 'boarding out'. He invited her to draft the legislation under which a State Children's Relief Board became responsible for fostering children from the state's orphanages. Mary was an original appointment to the Board.

Her husband became a judge in 1879 and judge in divorce in 1881. He favoured divorce law reform which would include desertion. Mary's practical response to the problems of deserted wives was to seek improved employment opportunities for women. Women's work became an abiding interest. The Windeyers were in Britain for the Jubilee in 1887, when Lucy Osburn was 'getting up an association . . . to try to make nursing a profession', and on their return Mary became involved in organising the Exhibition of Women's Industries, making nursing and literature her special areas. With funds raised by the Exhibition, she started a Temporary Aid Society, which advanced small sums of money to women in financial difficulties to help them make a new start.

Mrs Windeyer was ill again in 1890. Margaret issued the invitations to the meeting at their home which formed the Women's Literary Society, from which the Womanhood Suffrage League emerged in 1891, with Lady Windeyer as president. (William Windeyer was knighted that year.) In 1891 Mary was also a secretary for the second Australasian Conference on Charity and assisting in the establishment of a Women's College at the University. She led the deputation on suffrage to the Premier and soothed Lady Jersey's affront at Eliza Ashton's outspoken criticism of marriage.

Mary took advice from seasoned suffrage campaigner Mary Lee (q.v.). In 1892 she collected signatures for a suffrage petition and organised exhibits of women's work preliminary to the Chicago Exhibition of 1893. Her inclusion of sculpture led to a sharp exchange with the chairman: 'women's work', she wrote, went 'beyond the product of the needle'. She sponsored a Typewriters' Association and encouraged the formation of a silkgrowers' cooperative. She resigned as president of the Womanhood Suffrage League in 1893, following a disagreement over a change of rules, but as a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and convenor of its suffrage department she remained active in the cause. She saw no serious obstacle to women becoming members of parliament: 'maternity does not bar women from the stage'. 'We hear a great deal about the incapacity of women, their silliness and ignorance, but these failings are entirely the outcome of the dependence which is forced upon them'. A recurring theme in her many speeches was that there was 'no sex in religion, in intellect, in common-sense'.

In 1893 Lady Windeyer was organising a hospital to serve the needs of poor women in their homes, and as a training centre. It began as a district service, opened its own premises in 1896, and following a move to new premises became Crown St Women's Hospital. She proposed the Queen's 1897 jubilee fund should be used to extend hospital facilities. When Sir William took leave in 1896 Lady Windeyer joined him in England. She was to attend the world conference of the Woman's Christian Temperance League but was prevented from doing so by William's unexpected death in September 1897.

She returned to 'Tomago' where she lived the remainder of her life, overseeing the management of her farms and supporting local charities. She died in December 1912.

Heather Radi