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Frances May Hickman (1875–1956)

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Frances May (known as May) Hickman (1875-1956) typist, public servant, socialist activist and feminist 

Birth: 18 August 1875 in Aston Manor, Warwickshire, England, daughter of Harry Albert (or Albutt) Hickman (1854-1925), silversmith, and Frances, née Harding, both ardent socialists. Marriage: 3 March 1913 in Brisbane to a widower, Albert Hinchcliffe (1860-1935), later business manager of the Australian Worker. They had one daughter. Death: 21 July 1956 in a private hospital at Neutral Bay, Sydney. Religion: Christian Science. 

  • Arrived Australia with parents in 1880.
  • Of small and delicate physique. Worked as a typist and shorthand writer in NSW public service. Joined Australian Socialist League in 1891 at 15 years (following father's example), becoming a leading female member.
  • A prolific journalist, she reported on political developments in NSW for Queensland Worker under pseudonym 'May Day' & contributed to People and the Collectivist, writing on a wide range of subjects, including old age pensions, the drink question, arbitration and and unemployment. Opposed non-European labour and supported parliamentary socialism & nationalisation. Member of Australian Socialist League’s (ASL) General Executive & committee member/president of League's economics class (established 1899), working closely with James Moroney and Andrew Thomson.
  • She was an accomplished pianist and delivered recitals prior to ASL meetings and weekly lectures. Prepared programme & decorations for League's May Day celebrations and organised fund-raising social activities.
  • Eulogised by Ben Tillett in 1898 as '...a clever journalist of the most active workers in the socialist movement in Australia... and her knowledge of economics really wonderful for a young girl.' Highly regarded as a public speaker.
  • Whilst an ASL activist, she was also a committed feminist for whom feminism was not a 'tainted ideology associated with bourgeois feminists'. With Rose Scott, Belle Golding and others, she supported early closing and anti-sweating legislation, equal pay & other reforms relating to women. Yet she also opposed displacement of men by women in industry and saw women's true vocation as being within the 'private' sphere.
  • Member of the Womanhood Suffrage League (WSL) from 1899 until its disbandment in 1902. Member of WSL council 1899-1901. Addressed WSL meetings on various aspects of the 'woman question'. Active in organising women workers.
  • In February 1900 addressed Sydney meeting called to form Hotel, Club, Restaurant & Caterers' Employees' Union.
  • Severed ties with socialists in 1901 and went to work for the Women's Political Educational League (WPEL), formed in 1902 by Rose Scott, becoming vice-president and one of League's most active members. Travelled widely with Scott, forming branches throughout the State. In 1903 addressed WPEL meetings on child welfare legislation, educational reform & other issues.
  • Subsequently joined the Australian Labor Party, becoming active in Woollahra Labor Electoral League, representing Paddington at 1905 Political Labor League conference and playing an active role in PLL's Women's Organising Committee. Supported Scott's campaign for peace and international arbitration, joining Sydney branch of London Peace Society (1908), founded by Scott in 1907.
  • Travelled to Britain in 1915 with her husband and wrote about it for the Brisbane Worker. Returned with her husband and daughter to Sydney in 1917.

Verity Burgmann, In Our Time: Socialism and the Rise of Labor, 1885-1905, (Sydney, 1985); Joy Damousi, Socialist Women in Australia, c.1890-c.1918, PhD thesis, ANU, 1987; R. Sharpe MA thesis 2003. 

Citation details

'Hickman, Frances May (1875–1956)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hinchcliffe, Frances May
  • May Day

18 August, 1875
Aston Manor, Warwickshire, England


21 July, 1956 (aged 80)
Neutral Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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