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Elizabeth Mary Simmons (1876–1965)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Elizabeth Mary Mullins (Bessie) Simmons, née Fitzgerald (1876-1965) manageress, Women’s Section, State Labour Exchange 

Birth: 3 August 1876 [as stated in Public Service List] in Melbourne, Victoria, daughter of John Mullins Fitzgerald, boot manufacturer, and Margaret, née Smith. Marriage: 24 August 1896, with Presbyterian forms, in Bathurst, New South Wales, to William Stephen Finlay Simmons, telegraph operator. They had one daughter and three sons before they divorced. Decree nisi was granted on 2 May 1918. Death: 15 November 1965 in a convalescent home, Waverley, Sydney. Religion: Anglican. 

  • In Bathurst about 1913 separated from husband who, “addicted to drink”, failed to support his youngest child before serving, briefly, in the Australian Imperial Force.
  • Bessie moved to Sydney and received a temporary appointment in the Department of Labour and Industry on 29 April 1914. Was promoted to manageress Women’s Section, State Labour Exchanges (known as the Women’s Employment Agency) on 29 April 1916. In 1931 was temporary inspector for 6 months under Factories and Shops Act.
  • In 1938 a newspaper report described how “working quietly in an office at Ocean House, overlooking Martin Place . . . a little band of women, 14 strong, captained by Mrs B. Simmons, . . . help any girl or woman from 14 years to 60 who wants a job . . . she can be credited with having built up the most efficient women’s labour exchange in Australia”. The work of the department was free, no fee was charged for placing women in employment.
  • She and her first assistant manageress, Mrs Ellen Flanagan, were reportedly among the first married women to be employed in the Public Service.
  • Interviewed after her retirement on 4 December 1940, when new opportunities for women’s work during World War II were about to open up, she reflected on finding work for some 200,000 women over twenty-six years.

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Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Simmons, Elizabeth Mary (1876–1965)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Mary

3 August, 1876
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


15 November, 1965 (aged 89)
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.