The ‘Empire’ Post Card has the pink 1d ‘POSTAGE’ stamp of Victoria which is cancelled with the duplex EXHIBITION/ OC 28/ 07/ MELBOURNE postmark with the barred numeral ‘1197’. It is addressed to Launceston, Tasmania and the message starts off “I am writing this from the Exhibition…… (Figure 1).
The reverse of the postcard shows a picture of the Exhibition Buiding and it is inscribed with ‘Souvenir of the Women’s Work Exhibition, Melbourne 1907’ (Figure 2)
The reverse of another postcard shoes a photo of a massed women’s choir on stage, with seated dignitaries in front of them (including a ‘sprinkling’ of male dignitaries), and in the foreground there was a seated audience. At the bottom of the photo was a description “The Choir Women’s Work Exhibition 1907 (Figure 3).
On the 23 October 1907 some 15,000 people crowded into Melbourne’s Exhibition Building for the opening ceremonies of the Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work by Lady Northcote (the wife of Australia’s Governor General) and Pattie Deakin (wife of the Prime Minister), who also ran a model creche, during the exhibition. The 5 week exhibition (up to its close on 30 November 1907) showcased the work of women musicians, artists and craftswomen.
The exhibition’s visitors were able to view a display of arts and crafts, including paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, pottery, needlework, leatherwork, spinning and weaving. Exhibitors from all States of Australia, Britain, Europe, North and South America, India and Africa contributed to the exhibition, which was the inspiration of Lady Northcote.
“The first major exhibition of women’s work was held as a part of the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, where women lobbied for and set up the first separate women’s pavilion. Women’s exhibits were separated from the main displays of wealth, knowledge and industry and thus they sat outside of the national identities being developed and defined in the international exhibitions.”
“The First Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work was a celebration of all that feminists of the late nineteenth century had set out to achieve, and of the opportunities they believed had now been won…..They sought, as others had done, to justify their citizenship of the state by offering their labour as an example of their contribution to the Commonwealth of Australia.”
The exhibition “displayed sixteen thousand exhibits and at least 250,00 people attended. The Executive committee in their final report summarised the exhibits in the various sections of the Exhibition as being comprised of:
5,000 in the Fine and Applied Arts section, 7,000 in Needlework, and, 1,000 in Cookery, Horticulture, Medicine and Nursing, etc., the British and Foreign making up the balance….in the trade section there were 103 exhibitors, representing most of the trades in which women and girls are employed in Australia. Some of the exhibits showed processes of manufacture in operation.”
“ The motivation of the Exhibition was educational as well as celebratory. It included a series of lectures and musical concerts, an example of a working creche, and catering exhibits. There were prizes for essays on various progressive topics, like ‘Best Essay on the Best Method of Supplying Pure Milk to the Poor of the City, especially in Summer’ , trade exhibits from shops and companies run by women and displays of women’s inventions. Exhibits of royal women were sent from various countries and there was a large number of foreign loan displays, including ethnological exhibits.”
There was a bronze prize medal made for the 1907 First Exhibition of Women’s Work in 1907. The obverse showed a coat of arms with the legend, 1907/ MELBOURNE, and a motto in latin of CHRISTA CRUX EST MEA LUX (The Cross of Christ is My Light), which is that of the Northcote’s (Figure 4).
The reverse has the legend outside of the wreath: FIRST AUSTRALIAN EXHIBITION OF WOMENS WORK, and within the wreath: HIGHEST/ AWARD FOR/ WANDS/ HAWKSBURN/ S.S. [a State School in Victoria] (Figure 5).
A rare cloth bound programme of the First Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work, 1907 designed by Ruby Lindsay and Eirene Mort was found at auction with an estimate of AUD 1500-2000 (Figure 6).
A Souvenir catalogue of the First Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work, 1907 (Figure 7).
Helen Atkinson’s winning entry to the Women’s Work Exhibition poster competition, 1907 is seen in(Figure 8 ).
I am indebted to Prudence Flowers who on behalf of the Melbourne Historical Journal collective, emailed me a copy of an article that appeared in the MHJ in the 2001, Volume 29 issue, authored by Emma Willoughby, and entitled ‘Woman making an exhibition of herself: The Women’s Work Exhibition, 1907‘. I have quoted verbatim from the article, as shown in the four paragraphs in quotation marks.
Addendum (November 2007): The modern-day postmark is seen to celebrate the Centenary of the Women’s Work Exhibition, 1907-2007 (9).