The First 120 Years


The Context is Everything (1840-1848)

In 1840, when the great World Anti-Slavery Convention was held in London, four women arrived as members of the American Delegation. The convention organisers declared that the presence of women at the all-male convention was “subversive of the principles and traditions of the country and contrary to the word of God”. The women were ultimately allowed access but were restricted to a curtained gallery. 
When they returned home in 1848, they called the first Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls. These conventions continued periodically in America until 1888 when, in Washington, representatives of seven countries – England, France, Norway, Denmark, Finland, India, Canada and the United States – decided to set up a permanent organisation to be known as the National Council of Women. Each country would establish its national council, and an international council would coordinate the work worldwide. 

1873-1874  Royal Commission into Public Charities, Second Report, NSW Legislative Assembly, V. & P. ‘Ladies Bountiful’ referenced.

1879 – Institutionalised children (43.2% by 1879) who lived in state-run institutions. A further 53.6% lived in institutions that received government subsidies or grants.

1881 – Census of N.S.W., 1881, p.xxix. A “child” is defined as less than 15 years old.

By 1881, Sydney and the suburbs contained 81,668 children, 36.3% of the population.


1893 – Australian beginnings. 
In 1893 Margaret Windeyer (1866-1939) was appointed as the NSW Commissioner to the World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago that year. Records show that Miss Windeyer was extraordinary and reportedly the best woman speaker in the colonies. Her father was a judge of the NSW Supreme Court, and her mother was a leader in women’s affairs. With their support, Miss Windeyer emerged as a confident and capable woman, championing women’s rights. 
Miss Windeyer and other women involved in their national councils in various parts of the world met at the World’s Congress of Representative Women in May 1893 – part of the program for the World Exposition. As a result, Miss Windeyer began to develop her plans to introduce the concept of a national council in Sydney.

1896 – First official meeting.

Along with several interested individuals, eleven organisations were represented at a meeting at the Sydney Town Hall on 26 August 1896. They included the following:

  • Education for Deaf, Dumb and Blind;
  • German Women’s Benevolent Society;
  • Infants Home;
  • Ministering Children’s Fresh Air League;
  • Queen’s Jubilee Fund;
  • Sydney University Women’s Association;
  • Woman’s Christian Temperance Union;
  • Womanhood Suffrage League of NSW;
  • Women’s Hospital and Dispensary;
  • Women’s Literary Society;
  • Women’s Silk Growing Co-operative and Industrial Association;
  • Working and Factory Girls’ Club.

The first committee was formed under the leadership of Lady Hampden, Consort of the Governor of New South Wales.

The establishment of the Women’s College at Sydney University and The Women’s Club are two examples of the innovative foresight of these women. Several women present were experiencing what we now call ‘lived experienced’, keen to ensure their rights and their children’s rights were progressing whilst remaining responsible citizens and assisting those less fortunate.

Suffragists weren’t limited to those from the Womanhood Suffrage League of NSW. Many women & men were keen to progress the cause before and after the 1890s, particularly as white women in the colony of South Australia had achieved full suffrage. The paternalistic and misguided separatist idea of Aboriginal people being ‘different’ and the then laws of the day meant that many could not advocate for their inclusion. Although many worked in many different ways to seek ‘work arounds’, consult, support, assist, initiate discussion and work on the progress of full emancipation for all in New South Wales.  

Government social services were unknown. Women’s economic activities were very limited. Teaching and nursing were the only professions considered suitable for women. The number of women working in shops, factories and offices was small, and these women generally worked under poor conditions. Many worked from home – making ‘pin money’ by offering child minding, laundering/washing, baking and other goods and services. Women could (and did) own property and businesses, yet had no ‘rights’ regarding the children they gave birth to. The colony and State of New South Wales have generally been enterprise-driven community/communities.

1897 – Lobbies for libraries and kindergartens and the inclusion of Domestic Arts in the school curriculum.

1898 –  Affiliates with the International Council of Women

1902 – Support is given to the state government’s Children’s Bill

1904 – Participates in delegations to the NSW government regarding Bills for the Protection of Young Girls, State Children; Infant Protection; and Criminal Law amendments

1909 – Establishes the Alice Rawson School for mothers in Darlinghurst

1910    Proposes scheme for setting up children’s playgrounds in inner Sydney

1911    Holds conference on the subject of women workers


 World War I – The Great War – The War to End All Wars.

1915    Opens Women’s War Census Depot to coordinate women’s war work

1916   Holds conference on the subject of women’s work in war times.

Representatives appointed to Film Censorship Board and Soldiers’ Repatriation Committee.

1917  First woman Inspector of Schools appointed, after 20 years of agitation by NCW.

1922 Instrumental in founding Chair of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Sydney

1924  Conference: Prevention and causes of war

1925  Conference: The younger girl in the industry

1928  Action taken to ensure that women have the same rights as men to change nationality

1929  Founding the Board of Social Studies and Training

1930  President of NCW appointed as a member of Advisory Committee for the Relief of

Unemployed Women, Girls and Youth

The vocational Guidance Bureau established

1931   Joins newly formed NCW of Australia to bring together national councils of all states and territories

1932   Support was given to hostels for the unemployed and sewing depots for unemployed women

Children’s playgrounds set up in Sydney (first proposed by NCW in 1910)

1936   President, NCW NSW appointed Chair of Women’s Committee of the Sesquicentennial celebrations

1937   Request for restrooms to be made compulsory in factories



1939   Involvement with Child Welfare Bill

1940   Action taken to prevent lowering of the basic wage for women

1943 NCW NSW begins Housekeeping Emergency Service to assist families in distress

1944   Presses government for formation of the Nutrition Bureau of the Department of Health.



1946   82 organisations now affiliated with NCW

1947   International Group was created to interest delegates and members in international affairs

1950   Instrumental in establishing Migration Standing Committee

1953   Women’s Coronation Celebration organised as a gesture of loyalty by the women of NSW

1954   Sponsors the formation of the NSW Council for Children’s Film and Television


The 1960’s.

1960   Publication of NCW News begins

1965   NCW hosts reception for Joan Sutherland

1968   ‘Women of Achievement” luncheon attended by over 800 women

1969   President of NCW appointed as Chair of Women’s Committee of the Captain Cook Bicentenary Celebration

Organised Exhibition of Women’s Achievements in conjunction with Affiliated Organisations

 NCW conference: After equality – what?


The 1970’s

1970   Involved in the Women’s Historical Exhibition ‘Pageant of Endeavour’ held at Sydney Town Hall and visited by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Princess Anne

1971   A Short History Seventy-Five Years 1896-1971. Editor – Jean Arnot

1973   International Council of Women Regional Conference held in Sydney: Population Development and the Role of Women

Involved in the Festival Women’s Committee formed to celebrate the opening of the Sydney Opera House

1976   President appointed to Women’s Advisory Council to the NSW Premier (NCW had pressed

for an Advisory body since 1960)

1978   International Year of the Child seminar held at Westmead Hospital attended by 1000 people and opened by the Premier

Presses for changes to sex offences legislation greatly improved post-rape and pre-trial treatment of victims.


The 1980s

1980   Endeavour: Women’s Organisation in New South Wales 1896-1976, published by NCW

1981   Seminar relating to the International Year of the Disabled

1987   Seminar: Lone Parents and their problems

1989   Seminar organised for ‘Information on AIDS’ (HIV/AIDS Information Kit for Women distributed)


The 1990s

1991   Hosts seminar on ageing

1993   Hosts first Jean Arnot Luncheon honouring her work towards achieving equal pay and equal work in the Public Service, and celebrating her 90th birthday

Organised seminar at NSW Parliament House: Men and Women Against Violence

1994   Organised seminar: Supporting Schools Initiatives Against Violence

1995   Organised seminar: Gender Equity Issues in Schools – Broadening the Horizons (These last two seminars were supported by the Department of School Education and were a recommended flow on from the original seminar, Men and Women Against Violence)

Organised six seminar workshops for women attending the UN World Conference of Women in Beijing in 1996

Jointly started a fund with the Business and Professional Women (BPW) and Labor Council to commission Dr Jocelynne Scutt to write a book on the long struggle for equal pay

1996   Centenary Exhibition at Parliament House (thanks to affiliated members, 12 awards of $1000 are given to university students; $14,000 for seven seats for Sydney’s Domain recreation area)

1997   Seminar: Women Taking on Technology

            Three-lecture mini-series: Water

            Three-lecture mini-series: Youth

1998   Seminar: Ethical Issues in Reproduction



2000   Statement refuting claims that abortion causes breast cancer

Value of being a member of the UN – a submission made to the Senate Inquiry

2001   Leading the way at the Inaugural National Women’s Conference in Canberra in the area of ‘Human Rights are Women’s Rights

President attended the 45th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York as a delegate from the Catholic Women’s League

2002   Youth Forum: co-hosts with the Department of Women

Commitment to education on osteoporosis

Involvement in seminars and conferences by Health Adviser

2003   Book presented to Sydney Girls High School in memory of Jessie Scotford OBE, past president and contributor to the advancement of women

Launch of From the Heart members’ experiences of living in the outback

Represented at NCW State Working Party on Trafficking

Collaboration with UNSW’s Department for Refugee Research

 Seminars for visiting Japanese women on women’s rights and education.

2004   International Council of Women Conference held in Perth

Correspondence with government ministers on the safety of rail transport, alcohol regulations, and the need to improve the regulation of tobacco

Represented at the Public Hearing of the NSW State Working Party on Trafficking

Participated in the Beijing+10 consultations

Joined ‘Coalition of Women’ with WEL, BPW, NSW Labor Council and NCOSS to support the issues for women effectively at the government level

 Submitted to draft disability standards for access to public premises

Forum on poverty with speakers from the UN, St Vincent de Paul Society and the Salvation Army

Handbook created for Advisers and Coordinators.


Results on research into proposed changes to Industrial Relations legislation and changes to disability and unemployment allowances forwarded to the government.

Supported Domestic Violence Network work with refuges for women escaping domestic violence

Monitored plans of the Disability Advisory Building Codes Board

Funding for ATLAS (for severely disabled persons) was restored after a protest letter was sent to the state government.


Long-term state of the water supply to cities and farms

Recommended Maternity Paid Leave across the board

Alcohol abuse and long opening hours, and advertising during sporting events

Concern on granting of mining exploration rights on arable land in the Hunter Valley

Violation of children’s rights with regard to a radio interview of a 14-year-old

 The portrayal of women in the media

The exploitation of people with regard to the 457 Work Visa

Draft women’s health matters

Women’s Health Implementation Plan 2009-12 focusing on rural health

Health Adviser’s submission to Federal Parliament on Aboriginal health, the ‘Gap’ and perinatal mortality

Submission made on food labelling laws and policies

Submission made on elderly parents caring for adult children with a disability

Submission made on effects on young girls of Tots and Tiaras TV program

Lobbying and advocacy to urge governments to ratify the convention on the protection of the rights of migrant workers and their families

Submissions made to Legislative Council inquiry into social, public and affordable housing, with emphasis on safe refuges for women and children.



Read more on the ‘About Us’ page.