Maybanke Anderson

Maybanke Susannah Anderson (1845-1927), feminist reformer, was born at Kingston-on-Thames, England, on 16 February 1845, one of three children of Bessie (born Smith) and Henry Selfe, plumber. In 1854 they sailed on the Bangalore to Sydney where they lived in the Rocks district. While her brothers Norman and Henry were apprenticed to engineer P. N. Russell and Maybanke trained as a teacher, their father left them. In 1867 at St Philip's church, Sydney, Maybanke married Edmund Kay Wolstenholme, timber merchant. They lived in Maitland until after the birth of their first child, then in Sydney at Balmain and later at Dulwich Hill. Of the seven children born, four died of tuberculosis- related diseases in infancy. Edmund became a drunkard and in 1885 deserted his family. Maybanke took boarders, and then opened Maybanke College for young ladies. In 1893, under recent legislation extending grounds for divorce to include desertion, she secured a divorce.

She had joined the Women's Literary Society in 1890 and the Womanhood Suffrage League in 1891, serving as president from 1893-97. She spoke from personal experience of the importance of legal equality for women. Like others in the suffrage movement she wished the age of consent to be raised and was critical of moral double standards: 'It is possible for a man to lead the vilest of lives and still be considered worthy of recognition, while a woman who led a similar life was shunned'. In the Woman's Voice, the feminist fortnightly which she started in 1894, she wrote of contraception: 'Motherhood, the crowning glory of a woman, has been long enough a matter of accident . . . it is utterly wicked to talk of indelicacy'. She was a good 'platform woman', though at the beginning of the suffrage campaign she confided to Rose Scott (q.v.): 'When I stand up all the old wild horse spirit surges up on me and though I tremble I feel as if I were ready to fight like a lioness. But we shall win more by being soft.'

The Woman's Voice was remarkable for its uncompromising honesty, intellectual quality and absence of racial bias. It caused her considerable emotional and financial strain and she thought she lost students because of it. After her son Arthur was drowned in August 1895 Mrs Wolstenholme suffered some months of ill health, and when Margaret Windeyer declined her invitation to take over the Woman's Voice she ceased publication.

When she attended the preliminary meeting of the National Council of Women in 1895 Mrs Wolstenholme was an office-holder for the Sydney University Women's Society, the Suffrage League, the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales and the Australasian Home Reading Union. Maybanke found theosophy philosophically attractive in its opposition to war and freedom from sexual and racial bias. She was interested in education at all levels. The kindergarten and playground movements were to become her major interests. She was foundation president of the Kindergarten Union which opened it first free kindergarten in 1896. 'Formation not reformation' was her aim: better to train the child than to 'pay an army of policemen, magistrates, etc to protect us from them'.

Maybanke was appointed first registrar of the Teachers' Central Registry in 1897 and she resigned from that position to marry Francis Anderson, philosophy professor at the University of Sydney, in March 1899. He was a leading exponent of educational reform and Maybanke shared this interest. They honeymooned in Europe and Maybanke, writing as 'Lois', began contributing to the Sydney Morning Herald covering topics from travel to politics and jumble sales. She published Australian Songs for Australian Children in 1902. Following a second overseas trip in 1909 she became foundation president of the Playgrounds Association, which pioneered safe, supervised playgrounds for inner city children. She wrote Play and Playgrounds (1914) to publicise this cause. During the 1914-18 war Mrs Anderson was concerned about the spread of venereal diseases but uneasy about the proposals for compulsory notification. Believing education was preferable she published The Root of the Matter: Social and Economic Aspects of the Sex Problem (1916). She offered parents sensible practical advice on child-rearing in Mother Lore (1919), which was several times reprinted. Continuing her long association with the National Council of Women she secured its sponsorship of a Film Betterment League in 1922 (later Better Film League). Though troubled about the undesirable influence of the cinema, her interest lay more in the educational value of good films and in promoting Australian films.

Mrs Anderson wrote the chapter on 'Women in Australia' in Meredith Atkinson's influential Australia: Economic and Political Studies (1920), and local histories of Pittwater and Hunter's Hill. While on a third overseas trip, she died on 15 April 1927 at St Germain-en-Laye, Paris.

Jan Roberts