Jennie Baines – Suffragette

‘To fight for that which is better and nobler in this world is to live in the highest sense, but to submit and tolerate the evils which exist is to merely vegetate in the sewers of iniquity.’ Jennie Baines

Jennie Baines

Jennie Baines – portrait from Great suffragists and why

Lyn McLeavy writes 

Jennie Baines arrived in Melbourne in December 1913, aged 47.

She was the first suffragette to be tried by jury and one of the first to advocate militancy. She had been released from gaol and smuggled out of England after fifteen arrests and five prison hunger strikes. Fellow suffragette Adela Pankhurst arrived in 1914.

Melbourne was headquarters of the Women’s Political Association, with links to England’s suffragette movement. Australia would be Jennie’s reward, as Australian women had achieved the federal vote in 1902. It was thought her poor health would be spared from further hunger strikes. She suffered from St Vitus’ Dance, a condition brought on by emotional stress.

A rebel since age 10, in her youth she was outraged by ‘the deplorable condition of the women and girl chain-makers’. She had gone to school hungry and encountered people dying of starvation, motivating her lifelong concern for the welfare of working class women and children. She was first arrested, aged 22, for holding free speech and assembly meetings. She joined the Independent Labor Party.

Received in Melbourne as a celebrity, she was in demand as a speaker. Living in the poor industrial suburb of Fitzroy, she was active in the Labor Party; worked for Vida Goldstein’s federal election; was a leader in the anti-war movement of World War 1; mobilised thousands of women in protests against artificially high food prices in 1917; and was an executive officer of Victorian Socialist Party.

With other socialist feminists she was an ally of watersiders during the 1917 strikes. She established a women’s employment bureau; led free speech fights and embarked on hunger strike in Pentridge – reputedly Australia’s first hunger striker.

Baines was a founding member of Communist Party of Australia in 1920 and expelled in 1925 when she refused to toe the line. She had ‘a rich, powerful voice’ and was ‘a real firebrand’.

Jennie and husband George, a boot and shoemaker (an occupation with a strong radical and liberal tradition), staunch trade unionist and socialist, moved to 103 Bay Street, Port Melbourne in 1926. The following year, in a ground breaking and courageous move for women, Jennie stood for Port Melbourne Council as nominee of Political Labor League. After her defeat she revitalised the organisation.

In 1928 Hogan’s State Labor government appointed her Probation Officer, but not Justice of Peace, which she suggested in the newspaper was because of her militant suffragette past. She became Special Magistrate at Children’s Court, Port Melbourne, from 1928-1948.

Jennie Baines – born Sarah Jane Hunter in Birmingham, England 1866. Died Port Melbourne 1951


Ethel Hill & Olga Fenton Shafer eds 1909  Great Suffragists – and Why: Modern Makers of History. London

Judith Smart  Jennie Baines, Suffrage and an Australian Connection in June Purvis and Sandra Stanley Holton Votes for Women 2000

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