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Liddell, Mary Wherry (1877–1967)

by Ina Bertrand

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Mary Wherry Liddell (1877-1967), journalist, was born on 22 October 1877 at Inniskirk, near Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, Ireland, daughter of Thomas Bullock, house steward, and his wife Mary, née Wherry. On 18 June 1902 she married a merchant James Crothers Liddell (d.1946) at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Kinawley, with the rites of the Church of Ireland; their sons Edward and Leslie were born in 1904 and in 1907 respectively. The Liddells settled in Sydney about 1910.

Mary's conservative political opinions were apparent from her first public position as secretary of the Women's Loyal Service Bureau, which was formed to organize middle-class women as a strikebreaking force during the August-September 1917 general strike in Sydney. At the same time she was also a feminist. A member of the Lyceum and Feminist clubs in Sydney, she represented the latter on the National Council of Women of New South Wales in 1918-19 and was the club's secretary in 1922.

Her career as a journalist included working (1920-29) on the literary staff of the Evening News and as social editor of the Sunday News. Mrs Liddell was the only woman invited to contribute in 1929 to teaching the short-lived diploma course in journalism at the University of Sydney. For a brief time (1932-33) she worked for Truth in Melbourne. She maintained continuous membership (from 1920) of the New South Wales Institute of Journalists, of which she was a committee-member (1923-31, 1935-39 and 1942-50) and vice-president (1929-30 and 1951-55). When the organization was wound up in 1956, she graciously declined a proffered financial gift for 'pre-eminent help to the Institute'.

On 1 September 1925 Liddell was one of four 'distinguished women journalists' who had convened the first meeting of the Society of Women Writers of New South Wales. She became foundation vice-president, represented (from 1926) the society on the National Council of Women and was a member (1928-30) of the N.C.W.'s executive-committee. In 1929 Liddell was honorary treasurer of the New South Wales Women Voters' Association: she supported its amalgamation with other organizations to form the United Associations of Women, and was a member (1930-31) of the U.A.W.'s executive.

As a justice of the peace, as a member of respectable bodies like the English-Speaking Union, and as a prominent journalist with impeccable feminist credentials and a reputation for being tolerant and fair-minded, Liddell was a popular choice for the woman representative on the first Commonwealth film censorship appeal board. She took up her duties in January 1929 and was widely expected to be re-appointed, but after a change of government she was replaced in 1930 by (Dame) Mary Gilmore.

Survived by her sons, Liddell died on 3 October 1967 at Randwick and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • New South Wales Institute of Journalists, Annual Report, 1912-55
  • National Council of Women of New South Wales, Biennial Report, 1913-38
  • Journalist, 20 July 1928, p 97, 24 Sept 1928, p 134, 24 May 1929, p 85, 23 July 1929, p 110
  • Everyone's, 5 Dec 1928, p 4, 18 Dec 1929, p 6, 15 Jan 1930, p 6
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Nov, 3 Dec 1928
  • L. A. Heath, Sydney Literary Societies of the Nineteen Twenties: Cultural Nationalism and the Promotion of Australian Literature (Ph.D. thesis, University of New South Wales, 1996)
  • Premier's Dept (New South Wales), Correspondence, box 9/4748, A17/5711 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Ina Bertrand, 'Liddell, Mary Wherry (1877–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/liddell-mary-wherry-10827/text19209, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 23 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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