Finding a place for women in Australian cultural history: Female cultural activism in Sydney, 1900-1940

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With only a few exceptions, the endeavours of culturally active women appear as irrelevant or marginal to the history of Australian culture. Australian cultural historiography dwells on antithetic relationships, whether between cultural-political elites, gendered spaces and practices, or elitist and popular culture. However, this historical preoccupation with dichotomous notions of class, gender, and culture has deflected attention from other aspects of the struggle to define culture. Cultural definitions were far from fixed for most of the first half of the twentieth century in Australia. Negotiations on what constituted appropriate cultural form, content, and practice are apparent inside and outside establishment institutions where they existed, in movements to found cultural institutions where they did not exist, and in grass roots personal and collective choices. Women who were culturally active may be viewed as participants in these formative negotiations. Through the creative application of gendered skills and practices such as nurturance, networking and charity fund-raising they made clear their views on who or what should be considered as cultural in Australia. This culture of cultural activism will be considered in the case of some Sydney women.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-237
Number of pages17
JournalAustralian Historical Studies
Issue number124
Publication statusPublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


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