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Cashman, Mel (1891–1979)

Cashman, Mel (1891–1979)

Australian union organizer. Born Ellen Imelda Cashman on November 19, 1891, at Gladesville, Sydney; died in 1979; daughter of Ellen and Edward (Ned) Cashman (a hotel licensee); attended St. Joseph's School, Hunter's Hill.

Mel Cashman left school to begin work at an early age. Employed first in the clothing trade, she then took a job in the printing industry. Ten years later, she was a forewoman earning slightly over £1 a week but lost her job upon joining the Women and Girls' Printing Trades Union. In 1914, she became president of the union and, three years later, in 1917, became secretary. Shortly thereafter, the women's union amalgamated with the men's, becoming the Printing Industry Employee's Union of Australia. Appointed organizing secretary of the Women and Girls' Section, from 1918 Cashman also served in this capacity for the Cardboard Box and Carton Section. Earning only £1 per week, she protested the difference between her own wage and the wage paid to male organizers, and as a result of her agitation her salary was increased to 95% that of the rate paid to men. Greatly restricted in the range of work the union permitted them to perform, women were confined primarily to sewing, folding, numbering, and making paper bags.

Able to rely on the women's vote, Cashman was always elected to the Board of Management. Among her activities for the union were the organization of social events, debates, and physical activities and camps for women. Cashman also wrote a column for the Printer. In 1918, she gave evidence to the cost of living inquiry, and for the 1926 inquiry represented employees as an assessor. Additionally, at arbitration hearings, Cashman appeared for her union. In 1940, following one in a series of attempts to limit the voting rights of women union members, Cashman resigned her post.

Appointed a Commonwealth arbitration inspector, she was transferred in 1914 to the Department of Labour and National Service where her job was to survey clothing industry conditions. Wartime brought the creation of the Women's Employment Board to regulate the stipulations under which women could be employed in "male" work, and Cashman joined the Board as the representative for the Commonwealth. Voting with the majority, she usually sought between 60% and 95% of the rate paid to men. She resumed her appointment as arbitration inspector in 1944 but resigned after being hospitalized in 1952. She resided with her niece Ellen Brown until Ellen died in 1978, a year before Cashman's death.


Radi, Heather, ed. 200 Australian Women. NSW, Australia: Women's Redress Press, 1988.

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