1. Themes
  2. A to Z

Housewives' Association

Although a women's co-operative movement was mooted in Melbourne late in 1913, the Housewives' Association first took shape as the Housewives' Co-operative Society in mid-1915, led by women of broadly left-liberal political affiliation. The first president was Ivy Brookes. Although galvanised by the soaring cost of living during the first year of World War I, the leaders also drew inspiration from the co-operative movement in Britain. To bring the producer and consumer into direct contact, the association bought and distributed wholesale foodstuffs and lobbied local councils to open kerbside markets; it also persuaded local businesses to offer discounted goods to members. Initial enthusiasm faded in the polarised political atmosphere of 1916 and 1917 but the organisation was revived in late 1919 under the leadership of women with links to the conservative Australian Women's National League and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Eleanor Glencross entrenched the Melbourne organisation before forming the Federated Association of Australian Housewives in 1923 and later moving to Sydney. Although primarily a consumer-watch organisation, the Housewives did not eschew the occasional use of militant tactics such as the boycott, and, from 1921, also advocated women's representation on government bodies and in parliament. Nevertheless, its political and economic philosophy was conservative, and its motto one of secularised Christian service: 'For the Good that We Can Do'. Its growth fluctuated in the 1920s and was seriously interrupted by a split over temperance and leadership style in 1930. But by World War II 80 000 of the Association's 130 000 members were in Melbourne which was also the site of the national headquarters under the presidency of Cecilia Downing. War work focused on provision of comforts for soldiers and home help for women. A further split in 1947-48 saw the formation of the communist-led New Housewives Association but the main organisation, under a new generation of leaders, expanded during the 1950s, reaching a peak in the early 1960s when membership nationwide was 175 000. Decline in the 1970s and 1980s was a result of increasing numbers of married women joining the paid workforce and the Victorian branch ceased operation in March 1991.

Judith Smart