Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Seery, Eva Mary (1874–1937)

by Sue Tracey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Eva Mary Seery (1874-1937), political organizer, was born on 27 February 1874 at Tangmangaroo, near Yass, New South Wales, second daughter of six children of Edwin Joseph Dempsey, farmer, sometime hotelkeeper and goldminer, and his wife Mary, née Kelly. Her sister Sophia Bridget (1872-1946) had been born on 31 May 1872, also at Tangmangaroo. The family later moved to Temora then to West Wyalong. The two sisters became dressmakers and joined the Labor League in the Grenfell electorate as the only female members in 1889. Sophy married John Seery (1870-1925), a miner, on 26 November 1898 at Wyalong with Catholic rites. On 23 May 1900 at St Mary's Catholic Church, West Wyalong, Eva married John's brother Joseph Michael Seery (1875-1956), a gaol warder at East Maitland.

About 1903 Eva and Joseph came to Sydney. Eva joined the Waverley Labor League and made her first public campaign speech in August next year. In 1906 she helped to form the Surry Hills league, from which she was a delegate to the party conference for many years. She was a founding member of the Labor Women's Central Organising Committee in September 1904. In 1909 she replaced Mrs Bethel as secretary, a position she held till 1922. Not in paid employment herself, she campaigned for the rights of low-paid women workers and in 1913 became president of the Domestic Workers Union. She was a member of the boards of the Lady Edeline (Strickland) Hospital for Children and in 1914 of the Stannumville settlement, known as 'Canvas Town' or 'Calico City', at Daceyville.

Of medium height with dark hair and blue eyes, Mrs Seery was an impressive speaker with a 'well modulated' voice. At the tumultuous Labor conferences before World War I, often to interjections and catcalls, she and other women called for child endowment, better working conditions for women, equal pay and the right to serve on juries, enter the legal profession, sit on the municipal councils and stand for parliament. In 1911 she strenuously refuted accusations that the L.W.C.O.C. attempted to pack the conference by organizing its membership to fill up union delegations. She asked at the 1914 conference that women be included among the increased numbers being proposed for the Legislative Council and in 1916 sought regulation of employment agencies, which were charging women up to £1 to find domestic work.

In 1916, with Kate Dwyer, May Matthews and Mary Beddie, Eva unsuccessfully stood for Labor pre-selection for the Senate. She helped to form and became joint secretary of the short-lived Labor Women's Council, which sought to enhance the role of Labor women beyond canvassing for male candidates. In 1917 she failed to win the House of Representatives seat of Robertson, gaining nearly 44 per cent—she and Henrietta Greville were the first women to be endorsed as Federal Labor candidates in New South Wales.

Eva spoke extensively throughout the State opposing conscription in the referenda campaigns of 1916 and 1917. At the 1919 Commonwealth Political Labor Conference she opposed the socialist objective. Among the first sixty-one women appointed justices of the peace on 13 May 1921, she became an active member, and president, of the Women Justices' Association. She was a Labor Party executive-member in 1913, 1914, 1919, 1920 and 1922. The survival of the L.W.C.O.C. was largely due to the political and organizing skills of Eva and of Kate Dwyer.

Sophy and her husband John had campaigned for W. A. Holman in the Grenfell electorate. On coming to Sydney about 1910 Sophy became active in the labor leagues and the L.W.C.O.C. and briefly ran Balconies Restaurant at Bondi before moving to Surry Hills. Later John was supervisor of the Emu Plains Prison Farm. In 1914, like her sister, Sophy was on the party's central executive. She was appointed a justice of the peace in July 1921 and later lived at Coogee. Sophy died on 7 December 1946 at Coogee, survived by three daughters and a son.

Following appointments to Parramatta (1918), Maitland (1919) and Bathurst (1922), Joseph Seery was appointed superintendent of Long Bay gaol and state reformatory for women in 1925. The couple moved to the residence in the grounds, which became the venue for Eva's many women's gatherings. At Jack Lang's meetings she would interject in support of him. Later she supported R. J. Heffron's Industrial Labor Party. During the Depression she took bread and vegetables to the people in the shantytowns across the road from the gaol, at nearby La Perouse (Happy Valley) and at Matraville. She was a great supporter of St Aidan's school, Maroubra, which many of her grandchildren attended. At the 1930 A.L.P. Women's State Conference she presented a paper on 'The Delinquent Girl'.

Eva Seery died of diabetes on 22 May 1937 at Long Bay gaol and was buried in Botany cemetery after a requiem Mass at St Andrew's Catholic Church, Malabar, with a guard of honour from the penitentiary. She left an estate sworn for probate at £592. Her husband, who later remarried, and their three daughters survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • Truth (Sydney), 29 Jan 1911, p 11
  • Sun (Sydney), 21 Feb 1911, p 8
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Dec 1914, p 7, 13 Apr 1916, p 6, 19 Apr 1917, p 7, 23 May 1937, p 11
  • Australian Worker, 28 Oct 1915, p 9, 4 May 1916, p 13, 18 May 1916, p 20, 25 May 1916, p 20, 19 Apr 1917, p 5, 26 June 1919, p 7, 26 May 1937, p 10
  • Labor News, 19 June 1920, p 1
  • Catholic Press (Sydney), 3 Sept 1925, p 16
  • Bulletin, 26 May 1937, p 34
  • ALP (New South Wales), executive report, 1913, 1914, 1930-31 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Sue Tracey, 'Seery, Eva Mary (1874–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/seery-eva-mary-13189/text23877, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 21 September 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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