Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Selina Sarah (Senie) Anderson (1878–1964)

by Sue Tracey

This article was published:

Selina Sarah Elizabeth Anderson (1878-1964), parliamentary candidate, trade unionist and photographic retoucher, was born on 12 May 1878 at Tambaroora Road, near Hill End, New South Wales, only child of Irish-born James Charters (d.1879), an elderly, illiterate labourer, and his 19-year-old, English-born wife Sarah Charlotte, née Lawrence. The widowed Sarah married Jerome Anderson in 1880 and 'Senie' took his surname. In 1892 she was attending Tambaroora Public School, where she 'sulked and refused to answer when in class'. She worked in Sydney as an artist and photographic retoucher in 1903-06, living at Mrs Margaret Cahill's boarding-house in Elizabeth Street.

Anderson was the first woman to contest an election for the Australian House of Representatives, in December 1903, the first Federal election in which women were entitled to stand for parliament. Supported by trade unionists, she was one of two Protectionist candidates for Dalley, polling 17.74 per cent, saving her £25 deposit. From 1904 until 1907 she wrote letters to the press, addressed meetings, supported the rights of women to become doctors and promoted better conditions for tramway employees. She campaigned against the importation of domestic servants and opposed Chinese immigration and industry, becoming secretary of the Anti-Chinese and Asiatic League in May 1904. In June (with the encouragement of her stepfather) she sued a Hill End shopkeeper for defamation, alleging that he had described her as a woman of 'libidinous and licentious nature and disposition'. She maintained that these remarks had prevented her standing for the Senate, but the case was unsuccessful.

By November 1904 Anderson was a member of the organizing committee of the Sydney Labor Council of New South Wales and active in the Pyrmont Labor League and the Labor Women's League. She helped to set up the Cardboard Box Makers' Union, of which she became secretary. Later, as a delegate from the Shop Assistants' Union, she was a member of the anti-sweating committee of the labor council. In February 1906 she became the only woman member of the council's executive and its organizing committee. As a member of that committee she pursued an award for laundresses, assisting W. A. Holman at the hearing. By 1906 she was one of seven women, including Catherine Dwyer and Edith Bethel, on the State executive of the Australian Labor Party. Anderson had intended to recontest Labor pre-selection for Dalley; but by September 1906 her goal became East Sydney, for which she unsuccessfully sought labor council endorsement. Undeterred, she campaigned in 1907 for numerous Labor candidates, including J. J. Morrish in Mudgee. One onlooker later remembered her: 'with a ribbon band across her chest . . . this red headed woman of medium build speaking so well'.

On 1 January 1908 at St John the Baptist Church of England, Wellington, she married an Irish-born widower Christopher Hewitt Siggins, a publican and former alderman. They sailed for Dunedin, New Zealand, in December 1909, spent some time at Auckland and by 1915 were back at Dunedin where Christopher was acting gaoler at Otago gaol. They had returned to Australia by April 1918, when Selina was one of the first two women to stand for the South Australian parliament, contesting the seat of Adelaide as an Independent. Her manifesto included compulsory voting, proportional representation, benefits for returned servicemen and their families, bonuses for families of more than five children and price controls for food. During the campaign, she attacked both the Labor Party and socialism. She polled 2.06 per cent.

Moving back to Wellington, New South Wales, in 1922, Selina became the first woman delegate to the Farmers and Settlers' Association. That year, in December, she stood unsuccessfully as a second Country Party candidate for the Federal seat of Calare, polling 1.72 per cent. By 1928 she and her husband were living near Canterbury racecourse, Sydney, where they had stables and a couple of racehorses. Predeceased by her husband, Selina Siggins died on 30 November 1964 at Ashbury and was buried in Field of Mars cemetery with Anglican rites. She had no children. Her estate was sworn for probate at more than £5000. An individualist, with a reputation for meanness in later life, Selina Siggins was articulate and vigorous. She earned a significant place in Australian political history.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Ryan, Two-Thirds of a Man (Syd, 1984)
  • H. Jones, In Her Own Name (Adel, 1994)
  • R. Cooper, Making the New South Wales Union Movement? (Syd, 1996)
  • Women’s Budget (Sydney), 6 Feb 1906, p 18, 20 Feb 1906, p 18
  • Catholic Press (Sydney), 26 Nov 1903
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Dec 1903, p 8, 19 May 1904, p 8, 17 June 1904, p 4, 18 June 1904, p 11, 2 June 1905, p 8, 13 Sept 1906, p 7, 4 Dec 1906, p 4
  • Worker (Sydney), 16 Jan 1904, p 5, 4 Mar 1905, p 5, 19 July 1906, p 6
  • Wellington Times, 26 July 1906, p 4
  • Western Post (Mudgee), 4, 8, 11, 15, 22, 29 July 1907, 1, 8 Aug 1907, 2, 5, 16 Sept 1907
  • Land (Sydney), 25 Aug 1922, p 12
  • Labor Council (New South Wales) minutes, 9 Nov 1906, p 576, 5 Apr 1906, 1 Nov 1906 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Edna Ryan papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Tambaroora Public School records (State Records New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Sue Tracey, 'Anderson, Selina Sarah (Senie) (1878–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Siggins, Selina Sarah
  • Charters, Selina Sarah

12 May, 1878
Hill End, New South Wales, Australia


30 November, 1964 (aged 86)
Ashbury, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Organisations
Political Activism