This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988
Alexandrine Seager (1870-1950), businesswoman and war-worker, was born on 10 November 1870 at Ballarat, Victoria, eldest daughter of William Laidlaw, miner and farmer, and his wife Helen Mickel, née Dickson. Called Ina or Alexandra, she grew up in the country and was educated at home. On 16 June 1891 she married Clarendon James Seager, a 34-year-old widower, former British cavalry officer and insurance agent; they settled in Adelaide in 1908. With six young children, in 1909 Alexandra started a prosperous city business, the Scholastic Agency, which supplied governesses and servants to country people; it developed her entrepreneurial and organizational ability.
In November 1914, after visiting Morphettville camp to see her son in the Australian Imperial Force, Mrs Seager appealed to South Australian women to support the war. Endorsed by (Sir) William Sowden, the Register's editor, she formed the Cheer-Up Society to provide 'general comfort, welfare, and entertainment' for soldiers. As organizer and secretary Mrs Seager deployed courage and tact in assembling women helpers of high moral character, most with relations serving overseas. They visited army camps and hospitals, befriended lonely recruits, arranged luncheons, concerts and spirited farewells; they sent comforts to the front, welcomed the wounded from Gallipoli, and encouraged recruiting and fund-raising. From 1915 the society offered refreshment and recreation to soldiers in a large tent behind the Adelaide Railway Station. This was replaced by the Cheer-Up Hut in nearby Elder Park (opened on 14 November) in which over 200,000 servicemen enjoyed cheap meals and free entertainment provided by helpers in gleaming, long white uniforms.
With three sons now in the A.I.F. and her husband a recruiting officer, Alexandra Seager felt duty bound 'to make life brighter for the gallant men'. Besides recruiting lady volunteers, she co-ordinated the society's eighty country branches and its fund-raising, including the annual Violet Day Appeal (first held on 2 July 1915) which became a local remembrance day for the fallen. After the hut opened she worked full time with the movement, receiving a small stipend. Despite losing her youngest son George at Gallipoli, she spent long days at the hut and wrote stirring war verses which were published in pamphlets in 1915 and 1918 and sung at the front:
The concerts made the old tent shake in truth;
They sang song after song,
Filled with the glad wild wine of glowing youth …
A petite, sweet-faced woman with blue eyes and great vivacity, Seager was loved by Australian servicemen; many of the young saw her as a mother. Her almost moralistic concern for their well-being led her at the end of 1915 to call the foundation meeting of the South Australian Returned Soldiers' Association; their first grant was £50 from Cheer-Up funds. Its first vice-president, she resigned in 1919 in favour of an ex-serviceman.
After 1920 the society closed, Mrs Seager returning to her business; in the Depression she provided meals from a room behind the Cheer-Up Hut. Weakened by arthritis, she retired with her husband to their sons' soldier-settler property on Kangaroo Island, where she wrote poetry and learned Italian. The Cheer-Up Society revived on a grander scale in 1939; Mrs Seager took no part in it. Predeceased by her husband, she died at Kingscote on 12 March 1950 and was buried in the cemetery there with Anglican rites; three daughters and two sons survived her. The Cheer-Up Society disbanded in 1964.
Robert Thornton, 'Seager, Alexandrine (1870–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seager-alexandrine-8378/text14705, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 2 September 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988