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Grace Scanlon (1903–2003)

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Grace Scanlon, née Barrett (1903-2003) miners’ auxiliary leader, community activist and Communist 

Birth: 6 January 1903 at Minmi, New South Wales, daughter of native-born parents James Peary Barrett (1872-1932), coalminer and unionist, and Elizabeth Harriett, née Petersen (1879-1965). Marriage: 1927 at Cessnock to Henry Scanlon, coalminer. They had one daughter. Death: 12 August 2003 

  • Raised in a mining family. Secretary, Cessnock Workers’ International Relief Committee, c.1928. During 1920 coal lockout she was elected secretary of Cessnock Unemployed Women’s Committee.
  • Joined Communist Party of Australia in early 1930s. With Ethel Teerman and Nellie Simm was in the forefront of campaign for women’s auxiliaries in Miners’ Federation. Co-founder of Cessnock auxiliary 1938, Bellbird and Aberdare Auxiliaries, and a District Council of Auxiliaries, 1938, becoming secretary. Active in coal strikes of 1938 and 1940.
  • In 1939 was one of a delegation of women who addressed Miners’ Federation Central Council, successfully requesting recognition for auxiliaries as a constituent part of the union. For many years she was secretary and president of Cessnock and Abedare auxiliaries. Elected Northern District secretary in 1940 and national secretary in 1942. Auxiliary delegate to Newcastle Trades Hall Council.
  • Corresponded with Welsh mining women from Rhondda Valley, advising on formation of auxiliaries. In 1943 organised international affiliation with Welsh Miners’ Women’s Federation.
  • Conducted radio talks during World War II. Active in 1949 coal strike.
  • Member, National Committee of the Union of Australian Women. Committee member, East Cessnock Bowling Club Women’s Auxiliary. Prominent in opposing local government rate increases in late 1950s. Involved in Pensioners’ Association demonstrations in 1957. Assisted Bellbird strike and lockout. In late 1950s delegate to Cessnock Mineworkers’ Area Committee. Active campaigner during Aberdare stay-in strike 1957.
  • Through auxiliary, assisted crippled and spastic children, Cessnock maternity hospital, Cessnock aged women’s home, and pre-school kindergarten committee. Also involved in Joint Committee of Housewives, Cessnock and Newcastle co-operative guilds, May day committees, anti-tuberculosis committee, Newcastle Kindergarten Union, peace movement and flood relief. Maintained interest in auxiliaries until 1976, when northern auxiliaries ceased to exist.
  • Left CPA during split of late 1960s; One of 12 people featured in 'At the Coalface – the human face of coal miners and their communities: An Oral History of the early days'.

Common Cause
, 1 February 1958, August/September 2003 p 13; Joyce Stevens, Taking the revolution home: work among women in the Communist Party of Australia (Fitzroy, Vic, c.1987).

Citation details

'Scanlon, Grace (1903–2003)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Barrett, Grace

6 January, 1903
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia


12 August, 2003 (aged 100)

Key Organisations
Political Activism