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Emily Dobson (1842–1934)

by I. A. Reynolds

This article was published:

Emily Dobson (1842-1934), philanthropist, was born on 10 October 1842 at Port Arthur, Van Diemen's Land, daughter of Thomas James Lempriere and his wife Charlotte, née Smith. Emily had no formal schooling but was educated by her father whose wide interests and social conscience she made her own. On 4 February 1868 at the Bothwell Church of England she married Henry Dobson, a lawyer and later Tasmanian premier who shared her philanthropic ideas; they had two sons and three daughters.

Emily's prominence in public welfare coincided with her husband's early parliamentary career. In September 1891 she became secretary of the Women's Sanitary Association (later the Women's Health Association, of which she was vice-president), founded to combat the typhoid then raging in Hobart. Undaunted by the Mercury's occasional ridicule, the women regularly petitioned the local council and, with the men's Sanitary and General Improvement Association, ran candidates in the municipal election of 1892. In June 1893 Mrs Dobson's Relief Restaurant Committee began a soup kitchen in Hobart; later that year, with the unemployment crisis lessening, it initiated the Association for Improvement of Dwellings of the Working Classes. In November, however, the committee's imagination was captured by Henry Dobson's exposition of the Southport village settlement scheme and its funds and energies were diverted to it. Next year Emily, as president and managing secretary of the Village Settlement Committee, spent some days under canvas with the pioneers; the settlement received her backing until its failure in 1898.

Emily was also founding president of the Ministering Children's League in 1892, the ladies' committee of the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution in 1898 and was for many years president of the committee of management of the Victoria Convalescent Home at Lindisfarne. An early supporter of the Amateur Nursing Band, she began with others the New Town Consumptives' Sanatorium in 1905, was later a life patroness of the Tasmanian Bush Nursing Association and a first vice-president in 1918 of the Child Welfare Association. Like her husband she encouraged temperance (she was a long-term vice-president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union of Tasmania) and worked for educational reform, partnering Dobson in the establishment of the Free Kindergarten Association in 1911.

After a meeting with Miss Baden-Powell in England that year she established the Girl Guides' Association of Tasmania and assumed the position of State commissioner; she was awarded a medal from the London Girl Guide headquarters in 1931. A vice-president of the Tasmanian branch of the League of Nations Union and of the Victoria League of Tasmania, she was a founder in 1901 and sometime president of the Tasmanian branch of the Alliance Française. During World War I she taught colloquial French to soldiers at Claremont camp and in December 1930 received the insignia of the Order of Officier d'Instruction Publique.

Throughout her life Emily championed the cause of women. She founded the Tasmanian Lyceum Club and worked for the Women's Non-Party League of Hobart. A vice-president of the newly formed Tasmanian section of the National Council of Women in 1899 she was president of the federal body in 1906-21. She attended the first meeting of the International Council of Women in London in 1899 and almost every following executive meeting and quinquennial conference until 1932 when she made her thirty-third visit overseas: she was made an honorary vice-president of the International Council in 1925 and was later a patroness. She represented the Tasmanian government at the 1907 Women's Work Exhibition in Melbourne. In Tasmania the National Council of Women commemorated her outstanding public service by the establishment in 1919 of the Emily Dobson Philanthropic Prize Competition for welfare organizations. Affectionately known as the 'Grand Old Lady' she died on 5 June 1934 in Hobart and was buried in Queenborough cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • History of National Councils of Women in Tasmania 1899-1968 (Hob, nd, copy SLT)
  • B. Teniswood, Guiding in Tasmania, 1911-1973 (Hob, 1974)
  • P. F. Bolger, ‘The Southport settlement’, Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, 12 (1965), no 4
  • Mercury (Hobart), 8-12 Sept, 24 Oct 1891, 30 Aug, 10 Dec 1892, 3-19 June, 24 July, 25, 26 Sept, 6, 11 Nov 1893, 6 June 1934
  • Tasmanian Mail, 19 May 1921
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 3 Oct 1928, 24 Dec 1930, 7 June 1934.

Citation details

I. A. Reynolds, 'Dobson, Emily (1842–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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