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Catherine Helen Spence


1825 - 1910

Catherine Spence
©2016 Gazetteer for Scotland

Catherine Spence

Australian social reformer. Born in Melrose, one of eight children of a lawyer. Spence emigrated with her family for Adelaide (South Australia) in 1839, following her father's bankruptcy. She became a teacher, opening her own school in 1845, before becoming Australia's first woman journalist and known as a political campaigner and social reformer.

She campaigned for destitute women, the protection of orphans, proportional representation and universal adult suffrage. She had an important role in the provision of female education; contributing to campaigns for girl's schools, women's access to teacher training colleges and Universities. Spence became Australia's first female political candidate, when she unsuccessfully stood for election in 1897.

She also published seven novels, Clara Morison (1854), the first novel written about Australia by a woman, Tender and True (1856), Mr Hogarth's Will (1864), The Author's Daughter (1868), Handfasted (1880), Gathered In (1881) and A Week in the Future (1889). She also published a political text book and an autobiography.

Spence travelled extensively, returning to Melrose on two occasions, but found Borders society inward-looking compared to the progressive nature of Australia. During her lifetime she was known as Australia's greatest woman. Her statue was unveiled in Adelaide in 1986 and she appears on the Australian five dollar note.


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