Persia Campbell

Persia Gwendolen Crawford Campbell (1898-1974), economist, was born on 15 March 1898 at Nerrigundah, New South Wales, daughter of Beatrice (born Hunt) and Rudolf Campbell, teacher. She was educated at Fort Street Girls' High, Sydney, and the University of Sydney, graduating BA (1918) and MA (1920). On a travelling scholarship to the London School of Economics she studied Chinese coolie emigration for an MSc (1923). After a year at Bryn Mawr College studying American immigration problems, she returned in 1924 to Sydney where she was employed as assistant editor of The Australian Encyclopaedia (1926) and research economist to the Industrial Commission of New South Wales. She became an executive member of the New South Wales branch of the Institute of Pacific Relations (later Australian Institute of International Affairs) and was joint editor of Studies in Australian Affairs (1928). She taught extension courses on economics to the Workers' Educational Association and was also involved in the activities of the National Council of Women.

Persia Campbell left Australia in 1930 on a Rockefeller fellowship to Harvard University to study the effects of American agricultural policy on rural standards of living; in 1933 she published American Agricultural Policy. She married Edward Rice, an electrical engineer, in October 1931 and they had a son and a daughter; she took American citizenship in 1936. Increasingly interested in the economic power of consumers, she undertook graduate courses in public law at Columbia University, New York, and for her PhD (1940) studied the work of the Consumers' Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration; she published Consumer Representation in the New Deal (1940). Her goal became, in a distinguished academic career and as a public servant, 'that everyone shall be able to secure each day his daily 'bread', of good quality, and at decreasing cost, under conditions promotive of human worth'.

She was widowed in 1939. In 1940 Dr Campbell joined the Economics Department at Queen's College, City of New York University; she became professor of economics and head of its Social Science Department (1960- 65). She was appointed consumer counsel to New York State (1954-58), where she was largely responsible for the passage of consumer protection legislation. She also served as presidential adviser on consumer interests and international trade.

She was a founder of the National Association of Consumers (1947) and the Consumer Federation of America (1960). She gave lectures, wrote pamphlets, ran a weekly 'Report to Consumers' on radio and 'You, the Consumer' on television (1962-63). As leader of the American delegation to the Pan-Pacific Conference in Canberra in 1961, she was involved also in the successful establishment of an Australian Consumers' Association. She maintained her involvement in the women's movement in America, through the National Council of Women and the Federation of University Women. She represented the International Federation of University Women at the United Nations from 1968. She believed deeply in international cooperation and contributed in various capacities to the work of the United Nations.

Persia Campbell died on 2 March 1974. Against her doctor's advice she had attended a meeting of the International Organisation of Consumers' Unions. In her own words she 'could not bear not to be present at the birth of the Asian consumer movement after so long gestating.'

Heather Radi

Notable American Women: the Modern Period 1980.