Macquarie University
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Christian Jollie Smith: a life

posted on 2022-03-29, 03:44 authored by Carolyn Margaret Skinner
One of the first women to be admitted to practice as a lawyer in Australia, Christian Jollie Smith was also one of the founding members of the Communist Party of Australia. Following a short period of close association with the Party, she established and ran her own legal practice in Sydney for some thirty-five years from the mid 1920s. During this time she established a reputation for defending the unemployed, freedom of speech, and the Communist Party. Yet more than forty years after her death she has been largely forgotten. -- Both the early history of the Communist Party of Australia and the history of the legal profession in Australia have been inclined to overlook the contribution of women. As both a Communist and a lawyer, Christian Jollie Smith was something of a paradox in her time which in itself makes her interesting. A biography is also warranted because Smith's life personifies the struggle for autonomy, independence and recognition which many educated women experienced in the early to mid twentieth century. Smith challenged the vigilant respectability of her times by breaking free from the conventional life that was expected of the unmarried daughter of a Presbyterian minister, moving from Melbourne to Sydney to live with a married man. Her political trajectory from strict Presbyterianism to the equally strict secular ideology, Communism, while unusual for a woman, was not unlike the path taken by many men who were prominent in the radical labour movement. Yet, while Smith selflessly served the Communist Party of Australia in its early years to the detriment of her health, her contribution is rarely recognised by Party historians. Although she initially had little success in the legal profession in Melbourne, Smith resumed practising the law in Sydney, successfully demonstrating that a woman could forge an independent career at a time when few women did so but which today is taken for granted. -- This thesis contributes to women's history, labour history and legal history by bringing the three fields together in the study of the life and work of a woman who was both a radical and a professional. In so doing it presents further evidence to challenge the traditional view that Australian radicalism was the domain of working-class men and provides a fuller understanding of the early twentieth century Australian left.


Table of Contents

1. Glimpses of childhood and youth - 1885-1906 -- 2. Learning the law - 1907-1912 -- 3. Searching for independence - 1913-1920 -- 4. Not just the piano player - 1921-1929 -- 5. Defending the unemployed and dispossessed - 1930-1933 -- 6. The well-known lady solicitor - 1934-1939 -- 7. Old and grey and full of years - 1940-1949 -- 8. Coping with the crusade against Communism - 1950-1963


Bibliography: p. 277-290

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Division of Humanities, Dept. of Modern History

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jill Roe

Additional Supervisor 1

Angela Woollacott


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Carolyn Margaret Skinner 2008.






iii, 290 p. ill., ports

Former Identifiers

mq:14748 1537372