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Baines, Sarah Jane (Jennie) (1866–1951)

by Judith Smart

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Sarah Jane Baines (1866-1951), feminist, was born on 30 November 1866 in Birmingham, England, daughter of James Edward Hunt, gunmaker, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Hunt. At 11 Jennie was sent to work in Joseph Chamberlain's ordnance factory. Three years later she joined her parents in Salvation Army work, speaking from the platform and playing the cornet; on reaching the rank of lieutenant she was appointed evangelist to an independent working man's mission in Bolton where she also acted as police court missionary to women arrested. She later joined the temperance movement and the Independent Labour Party. On 26 September 1888 at Bolton she had married a bootmaker, George Baines; between 1890 and 1899 she bore five children.

About 1905 Jennie Baines joined the Women's Social and Political Union, the women's suffrage organization formed by the Pankhursts in 1903. In April 1908 she was made a full-time organizer in the Midlands and north of England on a wage of £2 a week. Travelling from her base at Stockport, she planned demonstrations, set up new branches and addressed meetings. One of the first to advocate militant methods, she was imprisoned some fifteen times for her part in protests and was the first suffragette to be tried by jury; in prison, she went on hunger-strikes five times but was never force-fed because her health was too frail. Soon after her release from gaol in 1913 she was smuggled into Wales with her husband, two sons and surviving daughter; as the 'Evans' family, in December they arrived in Melbourne, which had been chosen as a refuge because it was the headquarters of the Women's Political Association which had links with the Women's Social and Political Union.

Jennie Baines settled with her family in Fitzroy and began working for the Women's Political Association in January 1914, supporting Vida Goldstein's candidacy for the Federal seat of Kooyong. To some extent she was overshadowed by the arrival in Melbourne of the more flamboyant Adela Pankhurst. Both joined the Women's Peace Army in July 1915 (Jennie was elected an officer in February 1917); both helped to organize a women's employment bureau that year, and they campaigned tirelessly against the war and conscription in 1916-17. Both joined the Victorian Socialist Party of which Jennie was made an executive officer in September 1917. Unlike Adela, Jennie retained her connexion with both the Peace Army and the Women's Political Association until they disbanded in 1919.

Jennie Baines's primary concern was the welfare of women. For a month from 23 August 1917 she and Adela Pankhurst led marches organized by the militant Women's Peace League to protest to the Federal government against profiteering and the prohibitive cost of living. On 30 August she, Adela Pankhurst and another were arrested; on 4 September she was sentenced to nine-months gaol but was released pending appeal, and in October the conviction was quashed on a legal technicality. In December 1918 she was fined for displaying the red flag on the Yarra Bank. She was finally tried and gaoled for six months on 18 March 1919 for refusing to pay the fine or to sign a bond not to fly the red flag again. Resorting to her old tactic of the hunger-strike, for four days she went without food and drink before being released after a special Saturday meeting of Federal cabinet; she was reputedly Australia's first prisoner on a hunger-strike. Her defiant action won her acclaim from the Left, and eulogies and verses in her honour appeared in the Socialist and the Woman Voter. From the country, where she had temporarily retired to recover, she wrote: 'I will not, nor will I allow the workers if I can prevent it, to be cowed and driven by the miserable curs and creatures of political superstition and treachery, supported by their equally depraved hirelings and tools, who will commit any atrocity against the intelligence and physique of humanity in the name of “law and order” and for pay and position'.

Jennie Baines continued to work both in the Socialist and Labor parties. In 1928 she was appointed a special magistrate in the Children's Court at Port Melbourne, where the family had moved in 1926. Her activities after World War II were curtailed by encroaching blindness; she died at Port Melbourne on 20 February 1951 and was cremated, survived by her husband and three children. Although she lost her early Christian conviction, the evangelical imperative always coloured her commitment to the cause of women and socialism; her work also demonstrated the close links between women's radical political organizations in Britain and the Dominions.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Pankhurst, Unshackled, F. W. Pethick-Lawrence, ed (Lond, 1959)
  • E. S. Pankhurst, The Suffragette Movement (Lond, 1931
  • New York, 1971)
  • Woman Voter (Melbourne), 3 Feb 1914, 18 Sept 1917, 13 Apr, 6 June 1918, 10 Apr 1919
  • Socialist (Melbourne), 14, 28 Sept 1917, 28 Mar, 11, 25 Apr, 2 May, 25 July 1919
  • Age (Melbourne), 31 Aug, 5, 21, 25 Sept, 3 Oct 1917
  • Herald (Melbourne), 18, 20, 21 Mar 1919
  • Pix, 13 Mar 1943
  • Baines papers (University of Queensland Library)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Judith Smart, 'Baines, Sarah Jane (Jennie) (1866–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baines-sarah-jane-jennie-5100/text8519, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 22 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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