This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005
Jessie Spink Rooke (1845-1906), suffragist and temperance reformer, was born on 10 September 1845 in London, daughter of William Walker, bookkeeper, and his wife Catherine, née Scollay. By 1867 Jessie was living in Melbourne. On 3 January that year at Fitzroy she married with Presbyterian forms Peter Charles Reid, a warehouseman from New Zealand. After he died, she married with Presbyterian forms Charles Rooke, a medical practitioner, on 14 August 1883 at Germanton (Holbrook), New South Wales. Born at Weymouth, England, he was a widower with two sons.
In Sydney Mrs Rooke was prominent in the British Women's Bible and Prayer Union and the Marrickville branch of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Moving to Tasmania in the early 1890s, she became involved in the Burnie W.C.T.U., of which she was elected president (1894); from 1898 she was a vigorous president of the Tasmanian branch. The W.C.T.U. became the focus of the women's suffrage movement in Tasmania. Mrs Rooke travelled extensively, speaking publicly and gathering signatures petitioning parliament to legislate for the vote for women. The first campaign in 1896 resulted in some 2000 signatures and a similar number was secured in 1897. Legislative Council opposition defeated bills to amend the Tasmanian suffrage in both years, but Rooke reassured her members that their efforts in public and in their drawing-room meetings kept the issue prominent. The unions obtained a further 5500 signatures to support a referendum bill in 1898, and suffrage remained an important issue until the Electoral Act of 1903 enfranchised Tasmanian women.
Rooke was heavily involved in the National Council of Women, established in 1899, which worked closely with the W.C.T.U. in the suffrage campaign. As a W.C.T.U. delegate in 1902 to the International Council of Women Conference in Washington, she worked with Vida Goldstein in supporting the campaign of the United Council of Women's Suffrage for Federal adult suffrage. Succeeding Elizabeth Nicholls, of South Australia, as Australasian president of the W.C.T.U. in 1903, that year Rooke founded the Tasmanian Women's Suffrage Association, which attracted a membership beyond those interested mainly in moral and temperance issues. After the vote was achieved, the association continued as a non-party organization 'to interest women in all laws relating to women and children', educate members on wider political questions and encourage women to enrol. It urged women to use their right to vote in Federal elections as 'the highest expression of citizenship'. For the December 1903 Federal election, Rooke joined the support group for James Brickhill in the Darwin electorate. She was president of the Women's Political Association (probably the successor of the W.S.A.) at Launceston in 1905-06.
Espousing the sanctity of marriage, the privacy of the home and the need to give assistance to the poor, she was an excellent and forceful speaker, despite some fragility in health. Jessie Rooke was a self-denying worker and a good mediator, highly respected by her fellow workers. She died of congestive heart failure on 4 January 1906 at South Burnie and was buried in Wivenhoe (Burnie) cemetery. Her husband apparently destroyed her papers shortly after her death.
Faye Gardam, 'Rooke, Jessie Spink (1845–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rooke-jessie-spink-13174/text23847, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 28 May 2015.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005