Born 21 March 1857, Richmond, Australia; died 14 February 1943, Melbourne, Australia
Also wrote under: Alice Henry
Daughter of Charles F. and Margaret Walker Henry
Alice Henry's Memoirs of Alice Henry (1944), in which she describes her childhood in the Beaconsfield District at the edge of the Australian bush, reveals her close and loving relationship with the natural world around her. While she was still very young, her family moved to Melbourne, where she was educated both in private schools and at home, and formally exposed to the Swedenborgian religion. From her earliest life, Henry was expected to earn her own living; she also received, during her growing years, instruction in physical training, a discipline new to women.
Henry first supported herself by teaching, but soon began to write for the daily Melbourne Argus and for its weekly edition, the Australian. Her reading of Thomas Hare's Representative Government convinced her of the importance of active democratic involvement. When both parents died, Henry sailed for England as Melbourne's representative to a charity organization conference. In Britain, she interested herself deeply in women's issues and became close friends with feminist leaders Christobel Pankhurst and Annie Kennedy.
Unable to support herself in England while working for the women's cause and the poor, in 1906 Henry left for the United States. She soon embarked on speaking tours where she discussed the social conditions in Australia. She frequently joined such well-known figures as Edwin Markham, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Stanton Blatch, Julia Ward Howe, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson on the lecture platform. Jane Addams invited her to live at Hull House and work for the municipal vote; during her residence there, Henry also supported the many programs devoted to bringing the arts to working-class women.
In Chicago, Henry took over the position of office secretary of the National Women's Trade Union League and was soon in charge of the league's column on women's affairs in the Union Labor Advocate. Between 1911 and 1915, she edited Life and Labor, the league's journal, which she expanded to include information on suffrage and homemaking, as well as short stories and poetry.
The Trade Union Woman (1915), a pioneering work, was conceived by Henry as a handbook to inform the public about the economic and biological vulnerabilities of the American working woman. She viewed industrial organization and suffrage as the two major issues facing the women of her day. She believed trade unionism to be the most viable means of strengthening working women's relationships with their brothers in the labor movement. Tracing the history of labor organizing in this country from the early 19th century, the volume includes discussions of such topics as immigrant women in industry, major strikes, conflicts facing working women when they marry, and vocational training. Women and the Labor Movement (1923) expands and updates the material in the earlier volume.
After returning to Australia in 1933, she wrote the Memoirs of Alice Henry, and thereafter devoted herself to medical projects, the education of bush children, and the compilation of a bibliography on Australian women writers.
Henry was a woman devoted totally to the social causes she espoused, her personal life being inseparable from her professional dedication. An idealist, she lived in the fervent belief that the peace following World War I would offer opportunities for both the labor movement and the women's movement "to come into their own." In her vision, and in the energies she invested in trying to realize her vision, lies her major contribution to the improvement of the lives of working women.
Boone, G., The Women's Trade Union Leagues in Great Britain and the U.S.A. (1942).
Biographical Cyclopedia of American Women (1924). DAB. NAW (1971).
Life and Labor Bulletin (Apr. 1943).
—VIRGINIA R. TERRIS