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Glencross, Eleanor (1876–1950)

by Meredith Foley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Eleanor Glencross (1876-1950), feminist and housewives' advocate, was born on 11 November 1876 at 61 Cleveland Street, Sydney, eldest daughter of Angus Cameron, carpenter, trade unionist and politician, and his native-born wife Eleanor, née Lyons. Educated at Cleveland Street Public School and Miss Somerville's Ladies' College, she gained an early political education assisting her father. She later worked for the Liberal and Reform Association.

Noted for her eloquence, Eleanor in 1911 became general secretary, chief speaker and organizer of the Australian Women's National League in Melbourne. Next year she worked for the rival People's Liberal Party, returning to Sydney in 1913 to become women's organizer for the Liberal Association of New South Wales. At St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, she married Andrew William Glencross, a grazier, on 14 March 1917. She moved to Stawell, Victoria, and later that year helped in the pro-conscription campaign in Melbourne.

At the end of World War I Eleanor Glencross became an honorary director of the Strength of Empire Movement, which advocated prohibition. Like her father, she had a lifelong interest in liquor reform, working at various times for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, the Victorian Prohibition League and the temperance committee of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. In 1920 she became president of the Housewives' Association of Victoria, which had been formed by Ivy Brookes to educate working-class women in thrifty housekeeping. Under Glencross in the 1920s the association aimed at lowering the cost of living by political lobbying and co-operative stores. In 1923 she became president of the Federated Housewives' Association of Australia.

An executive-member in 1918-28 and president in 1927-28 of the National Council of Women of Victoria, Glencross lobbied for support for female candidates for public office and in 1922 encouraged the formation of the Victorian Women Citizens' Movement. She failed three times to enter parliament as an Independent: the Federal seat of Henty in 1922, the Victorian seat of Brighton in 1928 and the Federal seat of Martin in 1943. In 1923 she served on the Victorian royal commission on the high cost of living; her minority report called for prices legislation. In 1927 she was among the first female justices of the peace appointed in Victoria.

On her appointment to the Commonwealth Film Censorship Board in December 1928, Glencross transferred her activities to Sydney, but was not reappointed by the incoming Labor government. Later she was an active president of the Good Film and Radio Vigilance League of New South Wales. On the death of her husband in 1930 she was left economically insecure. Next year she joined the staff of the National Association of New South Wales and later worked for the women's section of the United Australia Party. In 1938 she became salaried chairwoman of directors of the Housewives' Association of New South Wales and henceforth frequently clashed with Portia Geach. As the result of an inquiry into the association's administration in 1941 and its alleged arrangement with the Meadow-Lea Margarine Co., it was reorganized, but increasingly Glencross was accused of 'dictatorship'.

During World War II she was prominent in patriotic activities as a member of the State advisory committee of the Commonwealth prices commissioner, the council of the Lord Mayor's Patriotic and War Fund and of the executive of the Women's Voluntary National Register. In 1946 she was bankrupted by a defamation suit brought by Mrs Margaret Simson, whom she had expelled from the Housewives' Association. However Glencross remained chairwoman of the association until she died, childless, at her home at Cremorne on 2 May 1950. She was buried in the Presbyterian section of Rookwood cemetery.

Forthright in her speech and opinions, an inveterate letter-writer and often the centre of turbulence, Eleanor Glencross had devoted her life to improving the conditions of women and children in the home. Described as 'truly feminine' by her supporters, she seemed never to have seen any contradiction between her own public career and the domestic role that she enhanced and exalted as the true occupation for Australian women.

Select Bibliography

  • Report of Royal Commission into the High Cost of Living, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1923-24, 2 (38), 1924, 1 (3) (5) (6)
  • Housewife (Melbourne), 5 Sept, 5 Nov 1929
  • Progressive Journal (Sydney), 1 June 1935
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 Jan, 1 Aug 1911, 1 Feb 1912, 5 Mar 1930
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Oct 1927, 18, 21 Jan 1930, 31 Mar 1931, 10 Sept 1941, 9-11 Oct 1941, 18 Mar 1942, 29 Oct 1946, 5 May 1950
  • National Council of Women (Victoria), Executive and Council minutes (National Library of Australia)
  • Brookes papers (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Meredith Foley, 'Glencross, Eleanor (1876–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/glencross-eleanor-6402/text10943, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 January 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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