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Amelia Alice (Minnie) Felstead (1876–1951)

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Amelia Alice ‘Minnie’ Felstead, née Sullivan, later Berfield (1876-1951) trade union leader, Labor Party activist, feminist 

Birth: 18 May 1876 at Wandiligong, Victoria, daughter of Eugene Sullivan (1850-1935), a miner born in County Cork, Ireland, later a soldier and customs officer, and native-born Ellen, née Kelly (1856-1930). Marriages: (1) 9 February 1905 at Carlton, Melbourne, with Methodist forms, to Edward Felstead (1863-1937), a divorced commercial traveller with six children. The marriage ended in divorce in January 1922. (2) 22 April 1922 in Carlton Registry Office, Melbourne to William Henry Berfield, an iron worker, later caretaker, born in Holland. Death: 21 July 1951 in Royal Melbourne Hospital. Religion: buried with Catholic rites.

  • Deserted by her husband a few months after her marriage, Minnie returned to live for a time with her parents.
  • She was secretary of Domestic Workers' Union in Victoria 1908-1911 and of the Whiteworkers Union in 1911-1912. Early organiser of Victorian labour movement. Active in Victorian Eight Hour Committee. Member of May Day Committee 1908-1909. The only female delegate to the Annual conference of the Political Labor Council of Victoria in Melbourne in April 1908 where she urged the improvement of conditions for domestic servants.
  • Appointed women’s industrial organiser by the Victorian Trades Hall Council in 1910. Helped to organise a Women's Strike Committee to support the Agricultural Implement Maker's strike in 1911. Was secretary of the Female Confectioner's Union in 1911-12 and secretary of newly amalgamated Garment Workers’ Union from about 1912 to 1914. Also involved in the Women Bookbinders' and Stationery Employees' Union.
  • Member, Central Executive of Political Labor League, 1909 to July 1913. Honorary secretary of the Women’s Organising Committee in 1911-1912. In April and May 1913 she addressed campaign meetings in north and western Tasmania.
  • Looked forward to the day ‘when women in the Labor movement would no longer continue as hewers of wood and carriers of water’, but did not believe in separate women’s organisations.
  • In World War I she was president of the Labor Women’s anti-conscription committee.
  • Failed to be appointed to Trades Hall Council executive committee in 1920. Attended only four meetings of the ALP executive and her seat was declared vacant on 4 March 1921.
  • She lived at 225 Drummond Street, South Carlton, from 1906 to 1922.
  • On 9 August 1927 Mrs Amelia Alice Berfield of Aspendale, then president of the ALP’s Women’s Organising Committee, was appointed justice of the peace.  She was defeated as ALP candidate for the Carrum borough council election later that month.
  • She presided on the Chelsea Court bench on occasion.
  • From 1927 she was a leading figure in and sometime president and committee-member of the Victorian Federation of Mothers’ Clubs.
  • Continued her active involvement with and was sometime office-bearer in the Labor WOC. In 1935 when Mrs P. J. Clarey [Katherine Williams] was expelled because of her membership of the Victorian Council against War, Minnie was elected president in her place. She resigned from the WCOC committee in April 1940.
  • Described as 'bright, plucky little woman'.
  • Cause of death: carcinoma of the stomach.

Merrifield papers, State Library of Victoria; Labor Call (Melbourne), 22 April 1909, p 19; Worker (Wagga), 22 April 1909, pp 113 & 18; Raeleen Francis, ‘No More Amazons’: Gender and work process in Victorian clothing trades, 1890-1939’, in Labour History, No. 50 May 1986; Frank Bongiorno, The people’s party: Victorian Labor and the radical tradition, 1875-1914 (Melbourne, 1996); Recorder, October 1998, no.211

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Citation details

'Felstead, Amelia Alice (Minnie) (1876–1951)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Sullivan, Amelia Alice
  • Berfield, Amelia Alice

18 May, 1876
Wandiligong, Victoria, Australia


21 July, 1951 (aged 75)
Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (stomach)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations
Political Activism