Vasey, Jessie (1897–1966)

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Vasey, Jessie (1897–1966)

Australian social reformer. Born Jessie Mary Halbert on October 19, 1897, in Roma, Queensland, Australia; died from a stroke on September 22, 1966; daughter of Joseph Halbert (a pastoralist) and Jessie (Dobbin) Halbert; University of Melbourne, B.A., 1921; married George Alan Vasey (an army officer), early 1920s (died 1945); children: George Alan (b. 1925), Robert (b. 1932).

Was a founding member of the Australian Imperial Forces Women's Association; established the War Widows' Craft Guild to improve plight of Australia's war widows (1946).

Jessie Vasey was born in Australia in 1897 and began her early education at Moreton Bay Girls' High School, where she boarded until 1911, when her family moved to the property known as "Tarcombe," near Aurel, Victoria. She then transferred to Lauriston Girls' School and continued her secondary education at Methodist Ladies' College in Kew. She earned a B.A. from the University of Melbourne in 1921, and also pursued interests she shared with her father, including his love of the bush and horses and his engagement in real estate.

Jessie married army officer George Alan Vasey in the early 1920s, and their son George was born in 1925. The family was posted to India in 1928, where they stayed until 1930. Returning home, Vasey gave birth to a second son, Robert, in 1932, and then lived again in India with her family from 1934 to 1936. During their stays, Vasey pursued an interest in Indian tapestry and antiques.

While living at the "Wantirna" estate in the Dandenongs during World War II, Vasey worked with the Australian Comforts Funds and was a founding member of the Australian Imperial Forces Women's Association. After her husband, then a major general, was killed in a plane crash near Cairns on March 5, 1945, she wrote to every war widow in Victoria and proposed that they form a craft guild to improve the plight of Australia's war widows. Following the inaugural meeting in November, the War Widows' Craft Guild was officially established on February 21, 1946, and Vasey was elected its first president.

Although Vasey was never able to persuade the Australian legislature to raise widows' pensions, she did gain improvements in their pensions and benefits under the Repatriation Health Scheme. She also proved adept at raising funds for her organization beyond government assistance, turning to donations from wealthy friends and proceeds from raffles to finance the Guild's projects. In this way, for instance, the Guild founded Caroline House, a home for eight elderly widows who concurrently served as resident caretakers of a ground-floor museum. In 1958, the Guild further formed the Vasey Housing Auxiliary, which by 1965 was housing 200 widows in Victoria alone. Jessie Vasey was named an Officer of the British Empire in 1950 and a Commander of the British Empire in 1963. She died three years later at the age of 68.


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

Lisa S. Weitzman , freelance writer, Cleveland, Ohio