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Robertson, Constance (Connie) (1895–1964)

by Julia Horne

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Constance (Connie) Robertson (1895-1964), journalist, was born on 16 October 1895 in Sydney, eldest of six children of Alfred George Stephens and his wife Constance Ivingsbelle, née Smith, both Queensland born. Educated by her father, Constance worked in 1911-16 on the Bookfellow, a literary magazine that he owned and edited. In 1917 she began work on the Sun, becoming 'Social Editress' of it and the Sunday Sun. She was one of two female journalists chosen to cover the first Pan Pacific Women's Conference in Honolulu in 1928 for Australian newspapers. At St Mary's Catholic Cathedral she married William Kinnear Robertson, journalist, on 25 July that year; her only child was born in 1931. She edited Women's Budget in 1930-36.

In 1932 Robertson edited the first issue of Ink, which included short stories by Flora Eldershaw, Marjorie Barnard and Ruth Bedford, poetry by Kenneth Slessor, (Dame) Mary Gilmore and Katharine Susannah Prichard, and illustrations by Margaret Preston and Thea Proctor. It was published by the Society of Women Writers of New South Wales: contributors were unpaid, the profits going to the society's friendly fund. In her introduction Robertson wrote that 'the undertaking was the more difficult because the old idea that a woman should not edit (but be sub-edited) persists'. She defied this 'old idea' during most of her working life.

As editor of the women's supplement of the Sydney Morning Herald from 1936 (and later of the Sunday Herald and the Sun-Herald) Mrs Robertson actively presided over its content, hence some of the ways that women were portrayed. She prided herself on socially relevant articles. Amid the pages reflecting such typically female interests as cooking, fashion, beauty tips, and local society and Hollywood gossip, were articles on books and authors and features on social issues. One on 'Home economics and child welfare' (6 May 1941) discussed proposals to establish a home economics federal bureau in Canberra. Her most consistently prevalent theme was the news value of women performing as well as men at things considered masculine. An article (6 September 1938) emphasized how Christina Stead had succeeded in the male-dominated world of banking, yet remained 'entirely feminine and very charming'; another (6 February 1940) argued that the 'fair-haired, blue-eyed and extremely attractive' female pilots in the Royal Air Force in World War II were often better qualified than many male pilots.

An accredited war-correspondent to the women's services in World War II, Constance Robertson wrote about many aspects of their war work. In 1947-48 she visited Britain and lived with an English family before writing a notable series of articles on the effects of rationing. During her career she covered such events as the opening of the Federal parliament in Canberra (1927) and the Queen's first Australian tour (1954). She was appointed O.B.E. in 1955.

A photograph of Constance Robertson in the 1940s shows her seated and typing diligently, elegantly attired and wearing a fur, surrounded by men and one other woman, most of whom were talking. Her public life was seen as intensely professional: she deplored mediocrity and expected a high standard from her staff. After retiring in April 1962 she continued to contribute a weekly column to the Herald. Survived by her daughter, she died of cerebro-vascular disease at North Sydney on 3 March 1964, a few days after the death of her husband, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Constance Robertson was an editor, wife and mother at a time when preferably neither wives nor mothers worked, especially in such typically male occupations as newspaper editing. Her daughter recalls that her attitude, far from being revolutionarily feminist, was that women could succeed in male-dominated professions, while retaining the ideal of femininity.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Cantrell, A. G. Stephens (Syd, 1978)
  • G. Souter, Company of Heralds (Melb, 1981)
  • Ink, 1, 1932
  • Opinion, June-July 1935
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Mar 1964
  • C. Robertson papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Julia Horne, 'Robertson, Constance (Connie) (1895–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robertson-constance-connie-8231/text14409, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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