Henry, Alice (1857–1943)

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Henry, Alice (1857–1943)

Australian American journalist and labor leader. Born in Richmond, Australia, on March 21, 1857; died in Melbourne, Australia, on February 14, 1943; oldest of two children of Charles Ferguson Henry and Margaret (Walker) Henry; privately educated; never married; no children.

Wrote for the Melbourne Argus (1884–1904); emigrated to America (1906), settling in Chicago; was editor of the women's section, Union Labor Advocate (1908–11); served as editor of Life and Labor (1911–15); served as national WTUL organizer (1918–20); was director of the WTUL education department (1920–22); retired (1928) and returned to Australia (1933).

Publications:

The Trade Union Woman (1915), Women and the Labor Movement (1923), and Memoirs of Alice Henry (1944), and numerous articles.

When Alice Henry came to the United States, early in 1906, she was almost 49 years old and had worked for more than 20 years as a respected journalist and social reformer in her native Australia. She arrived in America, as she would later remember, carrying not much more than the tools of her trade, her "pen and voice." For the next 20 years, Henry put those tools to work for the cause of women's trade unionism. Within a year of her arrival, Henry joined the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), working out of its national office in Chicago. There, she was an effective speaker for the three primary goals of the WTUL: organization, education and protective legislation for women workers.

Henry was born in 1857 in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond where her parents, both Scottish immigrants who had met on the boat to Australia, had settled. Her childhood was a relatively comfortable one. Although her father briefly tried and failed to establish a dairy farm in the Australian bush, Charles Henry worked most of his life as an accountant, providing a solid middle-class home for his wife, Margaret Walker Henry , and their two children, Alice and Alfred. Later in life, Alice Henry would credit her parents with instilling in her a sense that the world could be changed for the better. Coupled with her familiarity and active involvement with social reform in Australia, Alice Henry set foot in America ready to do battle on behalf of working women.

Although she spent her first few months speaking on women's suffrage, by the summer of 1906 Henry turned her attention to women and trade unionism. At the invitation of Jane Addams , Henry stayed at the Chicago settlement, Hull House. There, she met Margaret Dreier Robins who was about to become national president of the WTUL. Robins asked Henry to stay in Chicago and act as secretary of the local WTUL office. Henry accepted and within two years was putting her journalistic skills to work for the WTUL as editor of the women's section of the Chicago-based Union Labor Advocate. When the WTUL began to publish its own monthly journal, Life and Labor, in 1911, Henry took over as editor. During her four years as editor, Henry was assisted by her good friend and fellow Australian, Miles Franklin , a prominent author of such works as My Brilliant Career (1901).

Throughout her 20 years with the WTUL, Alice Henry emphasized the benefits of trade unionism for working women. At the same time, she was a staunch advocate of education for those same women. As educational director for the WTUL, Henry established the Bryn Mawr summer school for working women in 1921. She was also a supporter of protective labor legislation for both men and women similar to that passed in Australia before the turn of the century. In America, however, such labor legislation tended to focus on women alone. During the 1910s, Henry was particularly active in the campaign to establish a minimum wage for women.

Alice Henry retired in 1928, returning to Australia for financial and personal reasons in 1933. The last ten years of her life were not easy. The frailty of old age, combined with a sense of being a stranger in the land of her birth, made her final years frequently frustrating. Henry spent those last years dictating her memoirs and corresponding with old friends in America. After a serious fall at age 83, Alice Henry entered a Melbourne nursing home and died there three years later. Using her "pen and voice," she had devoted her life to social reform, especially the cause of working women.

sources:

Kirkby, Diane. Alice Henry: The Power of Pen and Voice: The Life of an Australian-American Labor Reformer. NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

collections:

Alice Henry Papers, National Library of Australia, Canberra and the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Kathleen Banks Nutter , Manuscripts Processor at the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts