Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Newson, Vivienne Elizabeth (Viv) (1891–1973)

by Margaret Bettison and Jill Roe

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

Vivienne Elizabeth (Viv) Newson (1891-1973), editor, was born on 21 September 1891 at Goulburn, New South Wales, eldest of six children of Victorian-born parents Thomas Dobney, commercial traveller, and his wife Agnes May Fleming, née Browning. By 1900 the family had moved to Wagga Wagga, where Vivienne attended the public school. At the Church of England High School for Girls, Bishopthorpe, Goulburn, she edited the school magazine and passed the junior public examinations.

On 27 October 1915 at St John's Anglican Church, Wagga Wagga, Vivienne Dobney, by then a clerk, married Sergeant Basil William Newson (d.1972), who served (1914-19) with the Australian Imperial Force; they were to remain childless. Vivienne lived at Woollahra, Sydney, and worked as a typist. When Basil returned from France in 1919, he resumed employment with the Bank of New South Wales. Little is known of Viv Newson in the 1920s. She let her house at Mosman and sailed for Europe in 1929. Family letters reveal that she enjoyed life in London. Possessing an adventurous spirit, she travelled to the Arctic circle and trekked along the Rhine in Germany. From Sydney she made a world tour (1938-41) with Basil, and visited upper Burma.

'I have always been a feminist', said Newson in 1938. After joining the United Associations (of Women) in 1933, she was elected to the executive in 1935 and represented the associations on the International Women's Day, International Peace Campaign and Spanish Relief committees. She paid particular attention to working conditions and in 1935 became State secretary of Open Door International. Elected a vice-president of the U.A.W. in 1942, she helped to establish the Council for Women in War Work in New South Wales. In 1944 the U.A.W. launched the Australian Women's Digest; Newson was appointed its part-time editor. That year she campaigned for Jessie Street in the Federal election. From 1945 Newson also produced a monthly News Sheet, which she brought out single-handed until 1972. Due to insufficient income from advertisements, the Digest was sold in 1947.

In 1947-48 Newson was acting-president of the U.A.W. Refused a passport in September 1952 to attend a peace conference in Peking, she sailed one month later for another peace congress in Vienna, returning via the Soviet Union and China. While she was president of the U.A.W. in 1954, a break occurred with the Australian Federation of Women Voters. The U.A.W. maintained its course, though saddened by the split.

Through the News Sheet, Newson contributed much to Australian feminism. Energetic, eagle-eyed and 'as much at home at the piano as the typewriter', she kept her colleagues informed and entertained for almost a generation. Three of her particular interests were sexism in the churches, 'protective' legislation and parliamentary representation. She prepared a history of the U.A.W. in 1969. Next year she attended the inaugural meeting of Women's Liberation and Revolution, held in Sydney, and also learned to drive. Diagnosed as suffering from lung cancer, she visited Singapore. She died on 16 August 1973 at Mosman District Community Hospital; her body was delivered to the University of Sydney and later buried in Rookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Radi (ed), Jessie Street (Syd, 1990)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 25 Sept 1952
  • Southern Churchman (Goulburn), Jan 1910
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 1935, 18 July 1938, 18 Sept 1947
  • Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga), 7 Sept 1938, 3 Jan 1939
  • Tribune (Sydney), 3, 10 Sept 1952, 25 Jan 1953
  • United Associations of Women papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Newson papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Bettison and Jill Roe, 'Newson, Vivienne Elizabeth (Viv) (1891–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/newson-vivienne-elizabeth-viv-11229/text20021, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 19 September 2014.

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

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