Lawson, Louisa (1848–1920)

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Lawson, Louisa (1848–1920)

Australian feminist, publisher, editor, journalist, and poet. Born Louisa Albury on February 17, 1848, near Mudgee, New South Wales; died on August 12, 1920; second of twelve children of Harry Albury (a station hand) and Harriet (Wynn) Albury; attended Mudgee national school; married Niels Hertzberg Larsen also known as Peter Lawson (a Norwegian sailor), on July 7, 1866 (separated 1883); children: five, including Henry Lawson (a writer).

One of 12 children, Louisa Lawson was born in 1848 and grew up near Mudgee, New South Wales. She was forced to leave school to care for her siblings. At 18, she married Niels Hertzberg Larsen, also known as Peter Lawson, a Norwegian sailor several years her senior. By some accounts, she was pressured into the marriage; whatever the case, it was never a particularly happy union. The couple joined the Weddin Mountain gold rush but later returned to New Pipeclay near Mudgee, where they were based until 1883, and where Lawson gave birth to five children, one of whom died in infancy. Since Peter was away from home much of the time, she raised the children on her own and also worked at various jobs to supplement the family income.

In 1883, having grown frustrated with a life of poverty, Lawson took her younger children and moved to Sydney, where she immersed herself in Spiritualism and the women's movement. In 1887, with her son Henry Lawson (who would later enjoy his own career as Australia's leading poet and short-story writer), she took over editing a radical newspaper, the Republican. The following year, she founded Dawn, the first Australian feminist journal, which gave rise to the Dawn Club, a suffrage society which, through an association with the Sydney School of Arts debating club, prepared women to speak publicly for the cause. Through the pages of Dawn, Lawson continued to focus attention on women's issues, including suffrage and job equity. In her editorials, she blamed prostitution on men and unfair laws and urged parents to educate their daughters so they would not be forced to take work as domestics. In 1889, Lawson established the Association of Women, merging her work with that of Rose Scott and the Womanhood Suffrage League. She continued to speak out emphatically for the cause, gaining notoriety for declaring that woman must gain the vote "to redeem the world from bad laws passed by wicked men."

Injuries suffered in a tram accident in 1900 curtailed Lawson's activities, though she remained politically active, joining the Council of the Women's Progressive Association and continuing to encourage the appointment of women to public office. During this period, she was also involved in litigation over the piracy of her invention of a new buckle for fastening mailbags. She was eventually awarded compensation, but at a reduced amount.

After 1901, Dawn began to lose its edge and by 1905 was forced to close. Lawson was increasingly plagued by family problems. In 1894, she had helped her son Henry bring out his first collection, Short Stories in Prose and Verse, but the book was poorly produced and led to an estrangement between mother and son. Another son suffered from mental breakdowns, and Lawson also frequently quarreled with her daughter.

In later years, Lawson took up residence in a cottage in Marrickville and supported herself as a freelance writer, producing short stories which appeared in several Sydney newspapers. A collection of poems, The Lonely Crossing, was published in 1906. Lawson, who died on August 12, 1920, was featured on an Australian postage stamp during International Women's Year, in 1975.


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

Wilde, William H., Joy Horton, and Barry Andrews, eds. Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1994.

suggested reading:

Matthews, Brian. Louisa, 1988.

Ollif, Lorna. Louisa Lawson: Henry Lawson's Crusading Mother, 1978.

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Lawson, Louisa (1848–1920)

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