Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Montefiore, Dorothy Frances (Dora) (1851–1933)

by Judith Allen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Dorothy Frances (Dora) Montefiore (1851-1933), women's suffragist and socialist, was born on 20 December 1851 and baptised on 18 January 1852 at St Nicholas' Church, Tooting Graveney, London, eighth of thirteen children of Francis Fuller, surveyor and railway entrepreneur, and his wife Mary Ann, née Drew. Brought up at Kenley Manor in Surrey, Dora was educated by governesses and tutors and at Mrs Creswell's school at Brighton. She later described herself as a dark-haired tomboy, devoted to her father. In 1874 she came to Sydney to assist the delicate wife of her eldest brother. After returning temporarily to England, she married a Jewish merchant George Barrow, son of Joseph Barrow Montefiore, on 1 February 1881 at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point. They lived at Paddington where her daughter was born in 1883 and son in 1887. Her husband died at sea on 17 July 1889. Upon learning that as the widow she had no automatic right to guardianship of her children, she became an advocate of women's rights. The first meeting of the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales was held at her home on 29 March 1891.

Dora Montefiore left Australia in 1892 and lived in Paris for some years, before returning to England. In 1898 she published a volume of verse, Singings Through the Dark. An executive-member of the London-based National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies led by (Dame) Millicent Fawcett, she soon joined the Women's Social and Political Union recently formed by Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. Of medium height with grey eyes and aquiline nose, she spoke 'up and down the country' and gave of her means. In May 1906 she received much publicity when she refused to pay taxes without representation and barricaded her Hammersmith home; after a six weeks siege her furniture was sold by distraint. In October, with Adela Pankhurst and other suffragettes, she was arrested and imprisoned for rowdily demanding votes for women in the lobby of the House of Commons. She successively joined Charlotte Despard and other socialists in the Women's Freedom League, the executive of the Social Democratic Federation and the British Socialist Party, and was a delegate to many international women's and socialist conferences.

In 1910 Mrs Montefiore visited her son Gilbert, an engineer who had settled in Sydney. Owing to the illness of Henry Holland, in 1911 she edited his newspaper, the International Socialist Review of Australasia. In her editorials she castigated the introduction of compulsory military training for school-age boys, thereby causing great public controversy. Her principles, however, did not prevent social contact with the Holmans.

Mrs Montefiore returned to England in 1912. Next year she devised a scheme to send some 300 starving children to England pending the settlement of strikes in Dublin. At the instigation of the Catholic clergy in Dublin, she was arrested and charged with kidnapping; although the charges were dropped, considerable press discussion culminated in an anti-Semitic attack upon her by G. K. Chesterton.

World War I was a time of great disillusionment for Montefiore: her international socialist friends were harried and Gilbert, while serving with the Australian Imperial Force, was severely gassed. Somewhat doleful, she presided over the dinner at the Lyceum Club to celebrate the enfranchisement of women over thirty. In 1920 she was elected to the provisional council of the United Communist Party of Great Britain.

Gilbert died in 1921, but the Australian government refused to allow Mrs Montefiore to visit Australia to see his grave and her grandchildren until Holman intervened, pleading her age and poor health; she had agreed in writing not to carry on communist propaganda. Police spying disclosed that she defied the restrictions and befriended Christian Jollie Smith. She represented the Communist Party of Australia in Moscow in 1924.

Back in England, Dora Montefiore published her autobiography, From a Victorian to a Modern, in 1927. She died at Hastings on 21 December 1933 and was cremated. Her daughter survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Fulford, Votes for Women (Lond, 1957)
  • J. Marcus (ed), The Young Rebecca (Lond, 1982)
  • Times (London), 25 May, 24 Oct 1906, 22-24 Oct 1913, 1 Jan 1934
  • Daily Herald (London), 16, 20, 22-24 Oct 1913
  • Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales, Minutes, in Rose Scott papers and correspondence (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Prime Minister's Department, suspended and undesirable persons 1916-25, CRS A 3932/SC 292/part 2 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Judith Allen, 'Montefiore, Dorothy Frances (Dora) (1851–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/montefiore-dorothy-frances-dora-7626/text13329, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 25 March 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Fuller, Dorothy Frances
Birth

20 December 1851
England

Death

21 December 1933
Hastings, East Sussex, England

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation