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Bromham, Ada (1880–1965)

by Wendy Birman

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

Ada Bromham (1880-1965), feminist and temperance worker, was born at Gobur, Victoria, on 20 December 1880, daughter of Frederick Bromham, blacksmith and miner, and his wife Charlotte, née Bradford. Educated at Yarck before arriving with her family in Western Australia in 1893, she became a monitor at a Normal school near Fremantle, then worked as a doctor's receptionist. When her mother died in 1908, she joined the daughters of Thomas Smith, former mayor of Fremantle, in a drapery shop at Claremont; she lived with the Smith family and was inspired by its temperance principles. Mainly through Miss Bromham's ability, the business prospered and, by the early 1920s, she was able to pursue a growing interest in social issues. She stood unsuccessfully for election to the Legislative Assembly in February 1921, then held office in the Women's Service Guilds, was president of the West Australian Temperance Alliance and secretary of the Australian Women's Equal Citizenship Federation in 1925, and next year became secretary of the Australian Federation of Women's Societies. Frugal habits and a substantial return from the sale of her business interests in 1927 enabled her henceforth to work full time for her causes.

Nominated by the Women's Service Guilds to the June 1926 International Suffrage Alliance Congress in Paris, Ada Bromham led the Australian delegation, and then represented her country at a London conference of the British Empire League on emigration; soon after her return she visited the eastern States for a Woman's Christian Temperance Union convention. She left Perth in January 1934 to become national recording secretary for the union in Melbourne. She conducted a Tasmanian campaign for six o'clock closing, then sailed in May 1935 with Isabel McCorkindale, W.C.T.U. national director of education, for a union convention in Stockholm and another British Commonwealth League conference in London. They returned through Italy, Germany, Russia and probably China. A South Australian temperance campaign in July 1935 included an all-night vigil at Parliament House.

In 1937 Miss Bromham became general secretary of the South Australian branch of the W.C.T.U. and corresponding secretary of the national body, now based in Adelaide. She stood unsuccessfully for Unley in the 1941 State election, then devoted much of her time to the legislative department of the national body. She retired at the beginning of 1946, and settled briefly at Hunters Hill, Sydney, but in 1947 went to Melbourne temporarily as Victorian general secretary. There she concentrated on penal reform and retired again at the end of 1949.

Ada Bromham now became interested in the Chinese-Australian Friendship Society and in May 1952 joined a peace delegation to Peking with Dr John Burton and other radicals. Allegations of germ warfare in Korea made the cause extremely unpopular, and on return all the papers and literature collected by the party were seized by the Customs in Sydney.

Miss Bromham next joined Isabel McCorkindale in Brisbane in 1952-53 as a supernumerary assistant and corresponding secretary for the national W.C.T.U. She travelled the State widely on union work and visited relations, but her long-standing Christian Socialist convictions clashed with the union's predominant conservative bias in Queensland; she rejoined her family in Western Australia about 1959.

Miss Bromham had worked for Aboriginal welfare both in South Australia and Victoria, and the last phase of her life in Perth was devoted almost entirely to this cause. She became Australian representative for the world W.C.T.U. council for the advancement of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, and later divisional superintendent in Western Australia; and she fought against State parliamentarians and the Commonwealth minister for territories for better conditions for these people.

A keen motorist, excellent mechanic and competitor in hill-climbs, she had acquired an Oakland car in 1916 and crossed the Nullarbor Plain several times. According to family tradition, she drove many miles along the lonely Balladonia track in 1931 on a punctured tyre that she had successfully plugged with a cork. She spent her last years in a small room at Willard House, the North Perth headquarters of the W.C.T.U. She died at the Brentwood Hospital of bronchopneumonia on 15 March 1965, and was cremated after an Anglican service. Contemporaries remember her as a handsome woman and as a forthright outspoken socialist whose bark was worse than her bite, who spoke quietly but did not suffer fools gladly.

Select Bibliography

  • I. McCorkindale (ed), Pioneer Pathways (Melb, 1948), and Torch-Bearers (Adel, 1949)
  • M. M. Bennett, Human Rights for Australian Aborigines (Brisb, 1957)
  • Women's Christian Temperance Union, Convention Reports, Western Australia 1920-65, National 1934-40, South Australia 1941-45, Victoria 1946-49
  • Dawn Newsletter, 1921-27
  • West Australian, 26 May, 23 June 1952, 18 Mar 1965.

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Bromham, Ada (1880–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bromham-ada-5368/text9081, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 17 August 2017.

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

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