Nell Martyn

Nellie Constance Martyn (1887-1926), businesswoman, was born on 12 June 1887 at Charlton, Victoria, daughter of Lucy (born Partridge) and James Martyn, both from Ballarat. James had been a schoolteacher and a draper before he purchased in 1900 a steelworks at Brunswick, Melbourne, which he renamed the Steel Co. of Australia. He twice became president of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures, and in 1923 represented Australian employers at the International Labor Conference, Geneva.

Nellie became a hospital masseuse. After many unsuccessful attempts to persuade her father to allow her to join the firm, he eventually submitted, some time before 1914, after she had become proficient in shorthand and typing and engineering drawing. She soon displayed an acute financial brain and when her father went overseas in 1923 he left her, not his son, with his power of attorney. On his death next year she took sole charge as managing director of what was claimed to be the 'largest steel founders in the Commonwealth', specialising in manganese and chrome steel, with well over 100 employees. She mastered all aspects of the business and began converting the buildings into a new model factory.

Nell Martyn was a Methodist and had long been active in the Young Women's Christian Association, especially in its industrial clubs. After a term as State treasurer, she became president in 1924 and was closely involved with the move of the association's national headquarters in Melbourne. She was first president of the Business and Professional Women's Club (1925), and a member of the committee of the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital. In 1925 the Australian Women's National League supported her preselection as nationalist candidate for the State seat of Brunswick, but the male party majority blocked it.

Highly capable in business matters, a good public speaker and a constructive committee member, Miss Martyn was led by her Christian perspective to interest in social service and workers' rights. She did not seek publicity for herself. Her view of woman's position was quite simple: the basis of women's equality was that the sexes were of equal mentality - she asked no more than to compete on the same terms as men and to represent the interests of the whole community and not just women.

Knowing she was mortally ill, Nell Martyn spoke at YWCA gatherings and others almost to the end. She died from cancer on 28 November 1926 at her family's Camberwell home. More than 1000 mourners, including the leaders of the iron and steel industry, were at the graveside where hundreds of wreaths from business firms were laid. Her obituaries reflected wide-spread anguish at the loss of one so young, so admired and who promised so much.

Oenone Serle