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Battye, Margaret (1909–1949)

by M. Medcalf

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Margaret Battye (1909-1949), by unknown photographer, 1930s

Margaret Battye (1909-1949), by unknown photographer, 1930s

State Library of Western Australia, 007362D

Margaret Battye (1909-1949), lawyer, was born on 9 August 1909 at Subiaco, Perth, only child of Charles Battye, librarian, and his wife Nellie May, née Robertson, both Victorian born; James Battye was her uncle. Educated at Perth Modern School, Margaret graduated from the University of Western Australia (LL.B., 1931; B.A., 1933) and was admitted to the Bar in 1933. She established a practice in Perth in partnership with Mary Hartrey who had also graduated in law that year. In June, dressed in a jumper, brown serge skirt and matching hat, Battye reputedly became the first woman to represent a client in a Western Australian court of law. She won the case. Battye earned favourable comment for the manner in which she had conducted her brief, and was congratulated by the presiding magistrate and opposing lawyer. From 1936 she practised on her own as a barrister and solicitor, and from 1939 worked for the Council for Civil Liberties.

In 1934 she had joined the Western Australian branch of the Australian Federation of University Women (president 1937) which planned to establish a university women's college. Appointed to the proposed college's fund-raising committee in 1938, she acted as its solicitor and was a member of its executive in 1942. Negotiations proceeded to take over the lend-lease quarters, used by American officers during World War II, which were situated close to the university. Agreement was reached in 1945 and Battye was appointed to the Women's College council next year. She was responsible for drawing up the original constitution under which the Women's University College (later the University Women's College and from 1960 St Catherine's College) functioned with little alteration for many years. As president (1947-48) of the Western Australian branch of the A.F.U.W., she hosted their conference in Perth.

A keen supporter of and honorary legal adviser to the Women's Service Guilds, Battye also exercised a guiding influence in organizing the Perth-based Business and Professional Women's Club which was founded in 1946; she was its first president and later a vice-president of the federal body. She belonged, as well, to the Karrakatta and Soroptomists' clubs, and was president of both in 1949. In addition, she chaired a national committee for the United Nations' commission into the status of women and acted as honorary solicitor to the Western Australian section of the Fellowship of Australian Writers.

Battye had been a member of the original working committee of the Liberal Party of Australia's Western Australian division; she represented the division at the first federal council meeting in Sydney in 1945 and was given responsibility for the foundation of the State women's committee; she was a State delegate to the party's federal conference in Canberra in 1946.

Described as 'a big person in every way, physically, intellectually and in personality', Battye was vital, friendly, witty and fun loving, but extremely serious about subjects close to her heart. She died of thyrotoxicosis on 16 November 1949 at Subiaco and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Karrakatta cemetery. A plaque on the library wall in St Catherine's College commemorates her.

Select Bibliography

  • M. V. Woods and W. W. Bisset, The First Fifty Years of the Activities of the Western Australian Association of University Women (Perth, 1973)
  • N. Stewart, St Catherine's College (Perth, 1978)
  • N. Stewart, As I Remember Them (Perth, 1987)
  • Civil Liberty, 2, no 4, Jan 1939, 3, no 3, Feb 1941
  • Milady, July 1949
  • Daily News (Perth), 22 June 1933
  • West Australian, 17, 18 Nov 1949
  • records of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Western Australia section and St Catherine's College and Western Australian Association of University Women (State Records Office of Western Australia)
  • Liberal Party of Australia (Western Australian division), minutes of Emergency Committee, Jan 1945-Apr 1949 (Liberal Party Office, Perth)
  • private information.

Citation details

M. Medcalf, 'Battye, Margaret (1909–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/battye-margaret-9454/text16627, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 19 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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