Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henrietta Augusta Dugdale (1827–1918)

by Janice N. Brownfoot

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Henrietta Augusta Dugdale (1827-1918), feminist, was born on 14 May 1827 in London, daughter of John Worrell and his wife Henrietta, née Austin. Married at 21, she arrived at Melbourne in 1852 with her husband Davies. After his death she married on 5 March 1853 William Dugdale, son of an English clergyman; they had three sons. On 15 June 1903 she married Frederick Johnson. She made her own clothes, grew vegetables, did carpentry and was an excellent chess player besides taking an active role in public affairs. She died at Point Lonsdale on 17 June 1918, aged 91.

From 1869 Mrs Dugdale had been a pugnacious pioneer of the Woman Movement in Victoria. In 1884 she was president of the first Victorian Women's Suffrage Society, formed on 7 May. With ready words and biting wit she wrote and spoke in the feminist cause. She firmly believed in evolutionary progress and the perfectibility of mankind which to her could only be achieved through the disciplined control of human nature by reason and the co-operation and equality of the sexes. These views were embodied in a booklet, A Few Hours in a Far Off Age (Melbourne, 1883), which she dedicated to George Higinbotham 'in earnest admiration for the brave attacks made by that gentleman upon what has been, during all known ages, the greatest obstacle to human advancement, the most irrational, fiercest and most powerful of our world's monsters—the only devil—MALE IGNORANCE'. The brutality and darkness of her own age she attributed not only to male ignorance and vanity but also to liquor and the illiterate working classes. The emancipation of her sex was to be the primary solution and she exhorted women to throw off their chains, discard their apathy and learn self respect. The weapon of emancipation was the suffrage whereby women could achieve equal social, legal and political privileges with men. Progress also involved elevating the working classes through a more equitable distribution of wealth and the introduction of the eight-hour day. She condemned the monarchy as a reactionary institution constricting human advancement and she bitterly opposed imperial federation; Christianity was another despotism formed by men to humiliate women, and most Christians were intolerant hypocrites. She described herself as a believer in 'true ethics' rather than religious morality.

Mrs Dugdale won adherents among radicals and secularists but met much opposition from conservatives. When she advocated reform of women's dress some accused her of sacrificing her modesty, and when she declared that women should have a place in politics others declared that she was attempting to win notoriety and self glory; yet she established the pattern of demands for female emancipation in Victoria. She stirred many women into positive action to achieve their rights and to gain access to the professions. She was a member of a Victorian group of radical, free-thinking women who believed in temperance, birth control and 'applying the surgeon's knife to rapists'. Although sometimes melodramatic and emotional in her opinions she was forceful and assertive and deserved her place among the founders of Victoria's feminist movement.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Henry, ‘Marching Towards Citizenship’, in F. Fraser and N. Palmer (eds), Centenary Gift Book (Melb, 1934), pp 101-07
  • Age (Melbourne), 10 Sept 1883
  • Melbourne Review, Jan 1884
  • Herald (Melbourne), 12, 28, 30, 31 May, 2, 3 June, 8, 13, 15 Oct 1884
  • Punch (Melbourne), 5, 12 June 1884
  • Liberator (Melbourne), 30 Aug, 29 Nov 1885, 4 July, 1 Aug 1886
  • Table Talk, 20 Oct 1899
  • Australian Woman's Sphere, 10 June, 10 July 1902.

Citation details

Janice N. Brownfoot, 'Dugdale, Henrietta Augusta (1827–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Worrell, Henrietta
  • Johnson, Henrietta

14 May, 1827
London, Middlesex, England


17 June, 1918 (aged 91)
Point Lonsdale, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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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.