Fashioning Mothers of the Next Generation: Philanthropy in Birmingham and Sydney, 1860-1914

Elizabeth Harvey (UCL)
23 November 2009


This paper focuses on charitable activities towards destitute pregnant women and new mothers, and will place metropolitan and colonial philanthropic practices in one analytic frame; aiming to illuminate how middle-class men and women articulated their status, values and discourses in the urban setting. Philanthropic work relating to new mothers facilitates the exploration of ideas about national belonging and citizenship as well as concepts of morality and respectability.
In the Australian colony of New South Wales the government contributed to many charities on a pound for pound basis, thus revealing differences in the way governments imagined their responsibilities to citizens/subjects in Britain and Australia. Moreover, this paper disrupts the dichotomy often present in the way philanthropic activities are presented: flowing from the middle classes to the working classes. Evidence from the charities explored in my research reveals multi-layered classed, gendered and ethincised interactions between middle-class men and women who formed charitable committees, the “respectable” men and women they employed in their institutions, and the women whom they sought to assist.
This paper argues that in both Birmingham and Sydney, philanthropic activities for women were framed within broader discourses of the readiness of women for citizenship. By contrast, Aboriginal women were imagined as being fundamentally different, perceived to be incapable of becoming citizens in White Australia. As such, a “divided philanthropy” existed in NSW for Aboriginal women and pauper white women. Aboriginal women were increasingly depicted as perpetual children, requiring “protection” on government reserves.