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Macdonald, Amelia Morrison (1865–1946)

by June Ogilvie

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

Amelia Morrison Fraser Macdonald (1865-1946), social reformer and women's activist, was born on 17 June 1865 at Blackburn, Linlithgowshire, Scotland, daughter of Peter Fraser, cooper, and his wife Isabella, née McRae. Amelia attended school at Govan, Glasgow. When she was 15-years-old, her mother died, and she worked as a seamstress to support herself and her sister. At West Govan on 2 August 1886 she married with the forms of the Church of Scotland Alexander Parkinson Macdonald (d.1937), a steamship steward and caterer. They emigrated to Sydney where, for nine years, she ran a tailoring business. In 1896 the Macdonalds moved to Western Australia. Amelia opened a café in Barrack Street, Perth, which continued to operate until 1913. Her 19-year-old niece Isabella Miller had joined the childless couple in 1910; Bonnie Brae at Glen Forrest was their home from 1916.

With other newly enfranchised women—among them Jean Beadle, Muriel Chase, Edith Cowan, Roberta Jull and Bessie Rischbieth—Mrs Macdonald was committed to widespread reform. A long-term member of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church and, later, an Anglican Sunday School teacher, she joined the Perth branch of the Theosophical Society and became its treasurer in 1902. The society's ideals of spiritual force, service, social reform, universal education and equal citizenship were her guiding principles. Following a visit by Annie Besant, the international president, Macdonald became a founder (1909) of the Women's Service Guilds of Western Australia. The guilds endeavoured to implement the Theosophical order of service laid down by Besant. Macdonald was treasurer of the Perth guild and State president (1929). A principal figure in establishing the Kindergarten Union, the Western Australian Girl Guides' Association and the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women, she supported the Workers' Educational Association, the Women's Immigration Auxiliary Council and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She vigorously opposed legislation for the compulsory notification and treatment of venereal diseases, regarding it as ineffective; instead, she favoured state provision of health education, and free, confidential and voluntary treatment.

In 1911 Macdonald helped to found the State branch of the National Council of Women. Five years later she joined the Order of International Co-Freemasonry. On 19 August 1924 she was appointed a justice of the peace for the Swan district. Next year she formed the Western Australian Women Justices' Association (president 1925-29 and 1938-43). The association scrutinized the treatment of juveniles in court, lobbied the government to place women on juries and advocated a court of domestic relationships separate from the police court.

Five ft 2 ins (158 cm) tall, slim and red haired, Macdonald displayed an intelligent, analytical mind and a determination to alter legal, educational and social structures which oppressed women and children. In all her efforts she had the backing of her husband and niece. For recreation, she enjoyed bridge, reading and bush-walking; late in life she learned to drive a motorcar. She died on 31 August 1946 at Subiaco and was cremated with Liberal Catholic rites.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Popham, Reflections (Perth, 1978)
  • J. Roe, Beyond Belief (Syd, 1986)
  • Women's Service Guilds (Western Australia), Dawn, 18 Sept 1946
  • Women Justices' Association of Western Australia records (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Women's Service Guilds of Western Australia records (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Perth Theosophical Society records (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

June Ogilvie, 'Macdonald, Amelia Morrison (1865–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macdonald-amelia-morrison-10929/text19417, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 15 November 2018.

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

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