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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Keighley, Erna Laura (1891–1955)

by Melanie Oppenheimer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Erna Laura Keighley (1891-1955), women's leader, was born on 25 June 1891 at Manningham, Bradford, England, one of seven children of Gustav Salomon, shipping merchant, and his wife Josephine Maria, née Jussen. Erna was educated at Belle Vue girls' school, Bradford. On 8 January 1918 at the parish church, Shipley, Yorkshire, she married Albert William Keighley (d.1948). With his brother Frank, Albert established Bradford Cotton Mills Ltd at Camperdown, Sydney, in 1925; he was also a director of Westminster Carpets Pty Ltd, and had interests in other manufacturing and mining companies.

In April 1930 Erna brought their two children to join him in Sydney. She was soon active in conservative organizations and was president (1936-38) of the women's branch of the Sane Democracy League of Australia. In addition, she became involved with women's issues and, while a member of the United Associations of Women, developed a lasting friendship with Jessie Street. From 1934 Mrs Keighley represented the Clifton Gardens group at council meetings of the U.A.W., of which she was elected a vice-president in March 1936. At Cambridge, England, she was a delegate (1938) to the conference of the Open Door International which aimed to protect the rights of female workers.

During World War II Keighley was president (1941-42) of the women's auxiliary of the National Defence League of Australia. Her followers drilled, made camouflage netting, studied military-related subjects such as mechanics, map-reading, signalling and convoy-driving, and formed a comforts group which she headed. In March 1942 she was elected president of the U.A.W. She mounted public campaigns for repatriation and pension benefits to be extended to members of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force and for women to be allowed to serve on juries. By February 1943 she was in England, acting as liaison officer for the U.A.W. and the women's auxiliary of the N.D.L.

Keighley returned to Australia in 1946. Apart from belonging to the ladies' auxiliary of the Royal Empire Society, she virtually retired from public life, although in 1947 she was involved in the Australian Women's Movement against Socialization. She lived at Clifton Gardens and had a second house, Bellevue, at Bowral, known for its garden. Every two or three years she visited England where she enjoyed hunting and country pursuits. Survived by her daughter Sylvia and son Geoffrey, she died of hypertensive cerebrovascular disease on 16 July 1955 at Clifton Gardens; her body was bequeathed to the medical school, University of Sydney, and later cremated; her estate was sworn for probate at £32,244. Sylvia had married (1941) the tennis player Adrian Quist; Geoffrey was a businessman, grazier, sportsman and member (1965-78) of the Legislative Council.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Nov 1948, 18 July 1955
  • United Association of Women papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Melanie Oppenheimer, 'Keighley, Erna Laura (1891–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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