Windeyer, Mary (1836–1912)

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Windeyer, Mary (1836–1912)

Australian charity organizer and champion of orphans' welfare and women's suffrage. Name variations: Lady Mary Windeyer. Born Mary Elizabeth Bolton at Hove, England, in 1836; died in Raymond Terrace, New South Wales, Australia, in December 1912; daughter of Robert Thorley Bolton (a minister) and Jane (Ball) Bolton; married William Charles Windeyer (a barrister, judge, M.P., and government official), on December 31, 1857 (died 1897); children: nine, including Lucy Windeyer (namesake of Lucy Osburn) and Margaret Windeyer.

Mary Elizabeth Bolton was born in Hove, a town near Brighton on the south coast of England, in 1836, one of nine children of Jane Ball Bolton and the Reverend Robert Thorley Bolton. When Mary was a toddler, the family moved to Hexham in New South Wales, Australia, where her father ministered at Tarro Church.

On December 31, 1857, Mary married barrister William Charles Windeyer, who had been raised on "Tomago," a large estate in Raymond Terrace, about 100 miles north of Sydney on the southeast coast. Three years after their marriage, William was elected to Parliament. He later became solicitor-general and attorney-general. An ambitious and hard-working man, William was a protégé of Sir Henry Parkes, five-time prime minister of New South Wales and primary architect of the Australian Federation. Mary Windeyer busied herself with the public life that accompanied her husband's responsibilities and with raising their family. In 1864, her infant daughter died, a factor that likely influenced her future advocacy for the health and welfare of children; however, by 1872, the Windeyers had six young children. Critical of orphanages, Mary favored placing orphans in foster care with loving families in an attempt to replace the large orphanages that were virtually the only method of housing orphaned and abandoned children in Australia at that time. Her friend Emily Clarke had successfully initiated a "boarding out" program in South Australia, and these views were shared by Mary's husband William. As royal commissioner, William Windeyer included this concept in his reports on public charities. In 1874, Mary helped to establish a foundling hospital that later became the Ashfield Infants' Home. As infanticide was a significant problem, Ashfield was reorganized to also admit mothers with illegitimate children.

Mary suffered from periodic bouts of serious illness, which handicapped her for several months during 1874 and again in 1876. She stayed with the children at "Tomago" during these incidents. Also in 1876, her ninth and last child was born. Mary enjoyed the friendship of Lucy Osburn , a nursing pioneer, who encouraged Mary to channel her interests toward hospital training. (One of Mary's daughters was named Lucy Windeyer in her honor.) Mary continued her work with orphans by opening a cottage home for them and by appealing to Sir Henry Parkes regarding the "boarding out" issue. At his request, she drafted legislation for a State Children's Relief Board, which assumed responsibility for fostering children from the staterun orphanages; Mary Windeyer was appointed as an original member of this Board.

In 1879, William Windeyer became a judge and in 1881 began serving as a judge in divorce cases, promoting legal reforms related to desertion. Complementing her husband's work, Mary sought increased employment opportunities for women, holding that deserted wives could help themselves if varied employment and support were available. Women's work and self-sufficiency came to dominate Mary's charitable efforts and activism during this period. In 1887, the Windeyers traveled to Britain for the Jubilee celebrating Queen Victoria 's 50-year reign. Lucy Osburn was initiating an association to validate nursing as a profession and when the Windeyers returned from Britain, Mary helped organize an Exhibition of Women's Industries that concentrated on nursing and literature. The Exhibition raised sufficient funds for Windeyer to organize a Temporary Aid Society, which helped women make new starts in their lives by advancing them small amounts of money.

Another bout of illness slowed Mary in 1890, and her daughter Margaret Windeyer helped organize the first meeting of the Women's Literary Society, which had matured into the Womanhood Suffrage League by 1891. Mary Windeyer, now Lady Windeyer as a result of her husband's knighthood earlier in that year, became the first president of this new organization. Also in 1891, she served as secretary for the second Australasian Conference on Charity, helped establish a Women's College at the University of New South Wales, and led the delegation on suffrage that met with Prime Minister Parkes.

The following year, she continued petitioning for suffrage and helped organize exhibits featuring women's work for inclusion in the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Windeyer was criticized for incorporating sculpture in the collection of exhibits; sewing, dressmaking, and other forms of needlework were considered the only suitable employment for women. She also supported new organizations to promote typewriting and silkgrowing as additional women's professions. A disagreement over rule changes led to her resignation in 1893 as president of the Womanhood Suffrage League. She had, however, begun a suffrage department within the Women's Christian Temperance Union, so the cause of suffrage remained a key focus of her attentions and influence.

Windeyer again organized a hospital in 1893 to care for poor women in their homes. Beginning as a district hospital, it opened its own facility in 1896, served as a training center, and later relocated to a larger premises as Crown Street Women's Hospital. In 1897, she further suggested that Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee fund should be dedicated to the extension of such provisions and accommodations. Sir William went to England in 1896, and Lady Mary followed him with the intention of attending the world conference of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. In September 1897, however, Sir William died suddenly. Lady Mary's larger charitable concerns ended; she returned to her children at "Tomago," the management of the family farms, and local charity work. Windeyer died in December 1912, having impacted public attitudes toward women and children; as she declared in many speeches, there is "no sex in religion, in intellect, in common sense."


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

Gillian S. Holmes , freelance writer, Hayward, California