Macquarie University
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Cultivating the arts: Sydney women culturists 1900-50

posted on 2022-03-28, 23:38 authored by Jane Elizabeth Hunt
In Australian cultural studies a focus on radical nationalists, male intellectuals, class-based cultural constructions and popular culture has steered the general historiography away from the subject of women and culture. Feminist cultural histories in Australia have tended to focus on practitioners, particularly women writers, and have set out to recover lost or unknown cultural heroines, develop exclusionist theories, or argue for a feminine aesthetic. This thesis considers the actions of both female practitioners and supporters of the arts, and suggests that despite numerous intersecting interests some continuity may be discerned in the actions of women culturists in Sydney in the first half of the twentieth century. Two key factors united them: the application of learned feminine behaviours in the patronage of culturally oriented individuals and movements, and an acceptance of the sort of distinctions that nineteenth century British discussions on culture had generated. -- This thesis examines through a series of case studies the work of practitioners in the arts, individual patrons or supporters of particular artists or cultural groups, and networks of supporters. It explores the dynamics of respective movements initiated or driven by women within musical, artistic, literary and theatrical circles, and in the wider community of the culturally concerned. This wider circle, driven by the mid-Victorian ideal of cultural custodianship, was concerned with the pursuit of cultural excellence and the 'civilising' arts. It was anxious about mass culture and the threat of mediocrity. Culturists, both men and women, sought to provide opportunities for training, education and cultural exposure; to found mutually supportive collectives; to establish permanent institutions; to secure the future of high culture in Sydney. In examining the movement towards the institutionalisation of cultural distinctions, this thesis takes a look at conservative Anglo-Australian cultural forces, as well as patriotic movements, and international modernist influences. Cultural nationalism thus appears as an ever evolving and multi-faceted creature, responding in a variety of ways to the onset of modernity. -- Threading these case studies together is a sense of femininity, and a raised focus on female cultural agency that was fuelled by the women's movement of the late nineteenth century. This is essentially about the cultural side of maternal citizenship. Sydney women culturists felt a duty to foster aspects of the high cultural life of the city. Years of private training and some contact with professional circles had given women culturists an active appreciation of the arts. In attempting to provide similar opportunities to the people of Sydney and the entire state, they achieved cultural agency. They used, as subtle acts of patronage, behaviours inherent in anachronistic codes of womanliness cited throughout the western world during the nineteenth century as the guarantor of the women's movement. They nurtured, they used social networks, and they frequently used charity-work as a working model. -- Female cultural activism accompanied an ongoing cultural reaction to modernity. It thus also changed as responses to modernity shifted in their focus. An increasing tendency in Australia to call on state and federal governments for cultural aid accompanied other shifts in the political and international environment following the Second World War. Thus the heyday of the woman culturist was over by the mid-twentieth century. Their actions, however, left a lasting legacy.


Alternative Title

Sydney women culturists 1900-50 | Sydney women culturists 1900-1950

Table of Contents

Introduction: sowing the seeds -- Mothers, writers, feminists and strangers: the early patronage of Miles Franklin, 1900-1906 -- From needlework to woodcarving: the Fairfax women and the Arts and Crafts Movement, 1899-1914 -- Ethel Kelly: the star of Sydney society -- 'Fellowing' women: Mary Gilmore and women writers of the 1920s -- Waging war on the establishment? Ethel Anderson, modern art and Sydney society, 1924-40 -- The musical ministry of Lilian Frost, Pitt Street Congregational Church organist, 1895-1949 -- From charity to cultural patronage: Lady Gordon and The Little Theatre movement, 1929-1939 -- The Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the 'Three musketeers' -- Waging war on the establishment? II: Mary Alice Evatt, modern art and The National Art Gallery of New South Wales -- Conclusion.


Bibliography: p. 447-465

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


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

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jill Roe

Additional Supervisor 1

Mary Sponberg


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Jane Elizabeth Hunt 2001.






1 online resource (465 p.) ill., ports

Former Identifiers

mq:22895 1747301