Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 21, 2020

Jacqueline Kent in conversation: Vida, a woman for our time

Thanks to the Victorian Women’s Trust in partnership with Readings Bookshop in Melbourne, I was able to attend a virtual launch of Jacqueline Kent’s new book, Vida, a Woman for our Time.

Introduced by Chris Gordon the program manager for Readings, and interviewed by Mary Crook from the Victorian Women’s Trust, Jacqueline was an entertaining speaker and has certainly made me want to read the book for more.

Mary talked about common it was for history to ignore women’s contributions, either before or after colonisation.  She mentioned the work of feminist historians in the 1990s and amongst others (whose names I didn’t catch) mentioned specifically Janette Bomford who wrote the first bio of Vida: That Dangerous and Persuasive Woman: Vida Goldstein. (Melbourne University Press, 1993).  Asked about her motivation for her own book, Jacqueline Kent explained that she wanted to write a popular bio to make Vida’s story more well-known.

What were Vida’s most enduring qualities?  Jacqueline nominated clarity: Vida was a clear speaker and thinker and she was very focussed about what she wanted to do and how to achieve it. She also had determination, as exemplified in the cover photo on the book, and she had elegance of mind as well.  She was never brash, but was always calm and quiet.  Mary Crook also suggested Vida’s steadfastness and her intellectual span.  She was highly intelligent and able to hold her own in debates on free trade and also international relations during the conscription debates.  She had wit and grace, despite the unbridled scorn and derision to which she was often subjected, able to maintain her composure despite great provocation.

Vida and her mother Isabella had a special mother-daughter relationship. A daughter of the western district, Isabella was an activist too, and was Vida’s role model.  She passed on her values about equality to her daughter, and Vida also learned practical organisation from her mother.  They worked together on the 1891 monster petition that demanded that woman get the vote, including door-knocking together when Vida was only 22.  Isabella was also active in the campaign for a women’s hospital.  Along with Constance Stone (and someone else whose name I didn’t catch) she was involved in fund raising because there was no hospital for women, and this was a time when the average woman had seven children.  Through what was called the Shilling Fund, they succeeded in raising £3000 and getting a £250 grant from the government.

Vida’s activism extended across many fields.  She started the Woman’s Political Association, started two newspapers, and was active in a variety of committees e.g. on behalf of women in prison, (including a campaign to have women warders).  She started the WPA (Women’s Peace Army) during the war and fought against conscription, playing a key role in defeating the plebiscite.  But she also did practical things like looking after women when their men were away (because it was often months before they received any money from their husbands).

She was the first woman in the British Empire to nominate for parliament, which she did five times, but was unsuccessful.   Many commentators say she wasn’t successful because she did not join a political party.  But the reality is that they were not exactly clamouring to have her join them, so she had no choice but to be an independent.  Also, she believed—even in 1903 at a time when the major parties were in a state of flux — that all the parties were organisations were of men, for men, and there was no place for her within them.  She judged that they were about maintaining the status quo and had no appetite for reform.

Her energy in her later years was extraordinary, travelling all over Victoria, and then the world when she went to the US and the UK to help with the suffragette campaign. At first she disapproved of their militant tactics but became more of a feminist separatist when she saw how brutally they were treated.   She was an impressive orator.  She drew crowds wherever she went, including a crowd of 10,000 at the Albert Hall in London.

Jacqueline told a couple of amusing anecdotes from the book, so I’m looking forward to getting a copy soon!

You can purchase the book at Readings, here.
Also, check out the excellent work of the Victorian Women’s Trust.


Responses

  1. Thanks for this. I have a copy of this for review and enjoyed reading this conversation summary.

    Like


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