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Amy Ann Whitham (1871–1932)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Amy Ann Whitham, née Brooks (also known as Aimee) (1873-1932) nurse, women’s activist, pro-conscriptionist

Birth: 8 February 1871 at Melbourne, Victoria, daughter of George Moss Brooks (1851-1933), commercial agent, born at Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England, and Jessie Alice, née Dyball (1852-1904), born at Adelaide, South Australia. Marriages: (1) Details unknown. Possibly in Perth, Western Australia. Marriage ended in divorce in February 1901. (2) 8 November 1904 at Fitzroy, Melbourne, with Congregational forms, to John Whitham (1873-1943), bricklayer, builder and contractor, born in Addingham, Yorkshire, England. They had two fostered children. Death: 26 April 1932 at Essendon, Victoria. 

  • Had moved to Perth, Western Australia by July 1898 when, as Aimee Whitham, she wrote to the press advocating womanhood suffrage.
  • She was probably the Aimee Whitham who passed nursing exams at Sydney Hospital in July 1902.
  • By February 1904 Nurse Whitham, certificated midwife, a registered member of the Australasian Trained Nurses’ Association, was advertising at “Howden”, Swan Hill, Victoria. She continued to work on her own account and in the local hospital. Was publicly active in the district, and was elected president of the Ladies Benevolent Society in May 1914.
  • She became a Labor activist and was prominent in the women’s movement in Victoria from 1906, and was an early member of the Women’s Organising Committee of the Victorian Political Labor Council (PLC).
  • Elected president of the first convention of Victorian Women assembled at the Trades Hall, Melbourne, on 23 June 1909, with Ellen Mulcahy as secretary. In the next few years she was very active in organising women in country districts for Labor, together with Minnie Felstead, Harriet Powell and others, working in Bendigo as well as Swan Hill. She was president of the PLC Equal Pay for Equal Work [Industrial] Convention 1913.
  • PLC women’s organiser 1912 to 1914. A 1912 report commented that “No figure is better known in electioneering contests than that of Mrs Whitham, the lady champion of Labor”. In a letter in November 1916 she described her connection with the PLC over several years: “When I acted as political agent for Mr Parker Moloney, MP, Frank Brennan, MP and the late J. Arthur I was paid at the rate of from six to eight pounds per week and expenses”.
  • Secretary, Swan Hill Political Labor Council in 1915. Her husband served in the Victorian Rangers for four years, and aged 42, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 2 July 1915. Allotted to the 1st Remount Unit, he was sent to Egypt but returned to Australia in May 1916 without seeing active service and was discharged in Melbourne on 14 June 1916.
  • Amy Whitham was an unsuccessful candidate for Labor pre-selection for the seat of Bendigo in January 1916.
  • A pro-conscription activist in 1916 and 1917, and rejecting accusations that she was a “traitor” and “renegade”, Whitham joined the National Party, organising throughout the State at election times on behalf of National candidates. She was prominent in Prime Minister Billy Hughes’s campaign to win the seat of Bendigo in the May 1917 Federal elections.
  • Involved with her husband in anti-Labor Returned Soldiers’ and Citizens’ Political Federation (1919-1920).
  • Became founding president of the Housewives’ Federation of Victoria in March 1920. Opposed liquor prohibition, urged moderation. Seems to have separated from John in the 1920s
  • Cause of death: cardiac and respiratory failure and cardiosclerosis.

Sources
‘Sex or Class? The politics of the earliest equal pay campaign in Victoria’, Labour History, November 1991, no.61, p 108; information from Terry King 1991.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Whitham, Amy Ann (1871–1932)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/whitham-amy-ann-33914/text42490, accessed 17 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Amy Whitham, 1912

Amy Whitham, 1912

Bendigo Independent (Vic), 29 August 1912, p 6

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Brooks, Amy Ann
  • Whitham, Aimee
Birth

8 February, 1871
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

26 April, 1932 (aged 61)
Essendon, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.

Occupation
Key Organisations
Political Activism