Edith Waterworth

Edith Alice Waterworth (1873-1957), welfare worker, was born at Manchester, England, to Emma (born Hamilton) and Henry Hawker, builder. The family emigrated to Queensland where Edith and her sister were educated at Brisbane Girls' Grammar School. She was a teacher before marriage at the age of 30 to John Newham Waterworth, who brought her to Tasmania. There were three sons to the marriage and Mrs Waterworth was in her forties when she became active in the social and moral questions which characterised the women's movement of that time.

She stood unsuccessfully for Parliament in 1922 and 1925. As with many women from the milieu of welfare activity, she argued for woman's special place in public affairs, as guardians of the human race and especially of women and children; the latter's needs were only truly understood by women. She wanted no more 'cumbersome deputations' but a voice in Parliament; she likened the state to a large home which needed both sexes to manage it.

Mrs Waterworth stood as the endorsed candidate of the Women's Non-Party League, of which she was a long-serving president. In 1922 she campaigned on rights for deserted wives, widows and their children and reform of the criminal law. As a member of the Women's Criminal Law Reform Association she called for the admission of women to juries, the appointment of women as justices and new procedures to ensure women under cross-examination had the support of a female companion. In her second campaign she stressed health issues: bush nursing services, a maternity hospital, a hostel and a domestic science training centre. She presented it as a simple business proposition: the foundation of national health was the wellbeing of mothers and children.

Waterworth became more deeply committed to maternal welfare in the 1930s. With Mrs Ransom, a Non-Party League colleague, she toured the state in 1935, fundraising for the King George and Queen Mary Maternity and Infant Welfare Jubilee appeal, on the slogan 'Make Motherhood Worthwhile'. This forced her to re-work her priorities: to raise the status of motherhood the position of woman in the home must be improved. This phase in her activities culminated in 1937 in the convening of a state-wide conference to coordinate welfare work for women and children, to which 99 organisations sent representatives. The falling birth rate was one issue addressed. Mrs Waterworth seemed to believe women would have more children if motherhood was made easier. The conference also discussed ante natal and post natal care, nursing services and housewifery and mothercraft training in schools. The outcome was the formation of a Council for Mother and Child, which ran, with Waterworth at its helm, for the next eighteen years.

Mrs Waterworth was active in numerous organisations - National Council of Women, Child Welfare Association, National Fitness Club, Free Kindergarten Association, Board of Censors of Moving Pictures, and others. She went on numerous deputations to Ministers and gave copious testimony to parliamentary inquiries. She established good relationships with the proprietors of the Hobart Mercury, and her frequent and outspoken letters to the editor earned her the sobriquet of Mrs Hot Waterworth. She was made a justice of the peace in 1931 and received an OBE in 1935. She was an active member of her numerous associations until her death at the age of 84 in 1957.

Jill Waters