First Australian editress
Henry Lawson’s mother
Reading with interest the recent articles on Charlotte Bronte and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin in the Women’s Supplement recalls to my mind another remarkable woman, Louisa Lawson, who pioneered women’s literature in Australia.
She was born on February 17, 1848, at Robert Rou’s station property, Guntawang, close to Mudgee, where her father, Henry Albury, was at the time working.
She was educated at the Mudgee Public School and became a keen scholar and at an early age contributed verse and correspondence to the local Mudgee paper, but it was not until after her marriage that her first poem was published called “My Nettie,” in memory of the death of her infant daughter. It appeared in the “Mudgee Independent.”
At the age of eighteen Louisa married Peter Lawson, a Norwegian seaman who had left his ship at Melbourne to join the gold-rushes of the fifties.
To-day at Grenfell an obelisk marks the site of the camp consisting of Louisa (the only woman) and her husband and seven thousand gold-diggers. Here her first child, Henry Lawson, was born, who was destined to become Australia’s best-known poet.
In 1884 the whole family settled in Sydney, and here in this new, progressive city the idea was born to start a magazine for women.
Despite many handicaps and opposition, the first copy, entitled “The Dawn,” was published in May, 1888, which, with the exception of a short article, was written by herself.
Soon afterwards she decided to employ only women, and this action raised a storm of protest from societies connected with the printing business. In the midst of this trouble her husband died, and the paper, originally started to help women to a broader outlook, became the chief means of support for her young family.
She was always a keen feminist, and her magazine played no small part in securing the vote for women. In the company of Sir Henry Parkes, Louisa was the first Australian woman to address an audience on this subject.
“The Dawn” survived for seventeen years, and when in 1905 she was forced to retire through ill-health caused by an accident in 1899, she refused to sell her paper.
She occasionally contributed articles, short stories and verse to various papers from her small cottage called The Lodge at Marrickville which was originally a part of The Warren, the old Holt Mansion built ninety-four years ago, and now demolished.
She died on August 12, 1920, leaving behind for others to read a small collection of verse called “The Lonely Crossing, and Other Poems,” and a book entitled “Dert and Do,” created from the adventures of her own family.
— J. E.
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 3 July 1939, Women’s Supplement, p.16