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Bolton, Beulah Alice (1888–1982)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Beulah Alice Bolton (1888-1982), Bush Book Club secretary, was born on 10 November 1888 at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, fifth and youngest child of New South Wales-born parents Alexander Thorley Bolton, auctioneer, and his wife Martha Elizabeth, née Devlin. The family moved to Sydney in 1890 and in 1902-07 she attended Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, Darlinghurst, where she also taught in 1909-10; later she was president (1925-28) of the Old Girls’ Union.

After briefly working as a relieving governess at Government House, Sydney, in June 1911 she was appointed part-time, salaried secretary of the Bush Book Club of New South Wales, which had vice-regal patronage. Replacing Mrs Ida Mary Withers, who had founded the club in September 1909 with the object of providing sound reading for country people, Miss Bolton kept the club going for the next forty years. In 1917 she became secretary of the newly formed State branch of the Victoria League, whose aim was to unite the Empire through good fellowship, to educate children, and to extend hospitality to overseas visitors. In the 1920s, with other notable, independent women, she also belonged to the Zonta Club of Sydney.

Beulah Bolton was a handmaiden to Sydney’s social elite, reflecting its prevailing conservative, loyalist British views. During World War I she had supported conscription and the book club refused to accept Marian Harwood’s pacifist publications. Miss Bolton regarded most politicians of the left as `bounders’. In 1930 she took eight months’ leave to holiday in Britain and Europe and to represent the State at the annual meeting of the Victoria League in London. In 1939 she was honorary secretary of the Women’s Voluntary National Register. During World War II the Victoria League helped to house and entertain visiting naval officers. In 1947 she joined the executive committee of the Australian Women’s Movement Against Socialisation. Following another trip to Europe in 1951, Miss Bolton fell out with the committee of the Bush Book Club and resigned in February 1952; she was made a life member. She stayed on as secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Victoria League until July 1961 and in 1959-62 also served as honorary secretary of the national committee. In January 1962 she was appointed MBE.

Miss Bolton lived with her family, first at Randwick, then at North Sydney, before moving to a wisteria-garlanded home, Kareela, at Hunters Hill, which she shared with her mother (d.1931) and three sisters. She travelled each day to town with her sisters Constance and Nelly, arranged the flowers in Nell’s tea-room in Bligh Street, then walked up to her office nearby. She became a firm friend of Lady Gowrie. Tiny, with firm views and uncompromising standards, she was described as `quirky without being quaint’. She loved cricket, enjoyed a bet on the horses and was a member of the Macquarie Club.

A. E. Housman was among her favourite poets. Following a third trip to Europe, and the death of her last sibling in 1964, she lived alone at Kareela. She died on 9 July 1982 in a nursing home at Gordon and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Lyons and J. Arnold (eds), A History of the Book in Australia 1891-1945 (2001)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Sept 1909, p 5, 6 Apr 1910, p 6, 13 Dec 1930, p 9, 13 July 1961, p 4
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 19 May 1917, p 7, 25 July 1917, p 8
  • Bush Book Club of New South Wales records (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Victoria League (New South Wales) records (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Bolton, Beulah Alice (1888–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bolton-beulah-alice-12228/text21933, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 20 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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