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Gether, Susanne Vilhelmine (1857–1911)

by Jane E. Hunt

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

Susanne Vilhelmine Gether (1857-1911+), woodcarver, was born on 14 September 1857 at Neksø, Bornholm, Denmark, sixth and last child of Jens Johan Gether, judge and sometime mayor, and his wife Barbara Petrea, née Jespersen. Susanne learned woodcarving in Switzerland. In Denmark she acquired further skills and worked in woodcarving, leatherwork and pyrography (pokerwork), later asserting that the Danish recognized such skills as proper for the 'highest lady in the land'.

Gether travelled from Copenhagen to Dunedin, New Zealand, in 1890 and within a year had a number of 'lady students'. In 1892 she became a teacher at the Dunedin Technical Classes Association; the vocational woodcarving class was cancelled, however, due to lack of support. When offered again in 1893 it attracted nine pupils. That year her name was included among the colony's first female electors. At the Otago Jubilee Industrial Exhibition (1898), in the home industries court, she exhibited work that included carved animals regarded as the 'best of the collection'.

In 1899 some Sydney women on holiday at Dunedin—including Lena, the wife of Geoffrey Fairfax, and Mabel, the wife of (Sir) James O. Fairfax—admired the work of Gether's pupils and arranged for her to move to Sydney and hold classes in the Queen Victoria building. In August she exhibited her craft at a bazaar. The two Mrs Fairfaxes were among her first students, as was the philanthropist (Dame) Eadith Walker. Woodcarving became a popular craft among middle-class women in Sydney. Gether pointed to their achievements in 1908: 'There are hands, brains, energy, and understanding for it all, for . . . women of this country do not care to be classed as unemployed'. That year she launched a campaign to teach weaving. This involved developing original designs and the creative and skilful use of old handlooms.

The Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales was set up by amateur craft workers—men and women—at Mosman in 1906. Gether quickly joined and from December the society held meetings at her studio, now in St James's Chambers, King Street. She also served on the New South Wales organizing committee for the Exhibition of Women's Work (Melbourne, 1907) initiated by Lady Northcote, the wife of the governor-general. For the exhibition Gether designed a carved rosewood table and six chairs, which sixty-two pupils and members of the arts and crafts society executed. The suite was then shown at the Franco-British Exhibition, London (1908).

When numerous new, non-practising members joined the society, the founding members, including Gether, resigned. New groups of non-practitioners, linked to the social circles in which Lena and Mabel Fairfax moved and apparently loyal to Gether, commandeered the leadership of the society in 1910. She accepted the office of vice-president in April that year, but had resigned again by the end of June.

After Gether left Sydney in March 1911, the Sydney Club and Depot of Arts and Domestic Economy (Women's Handicrafts Association) was established, 'for the purpose of continuing the work initiated by Miss Gether'. By focussing increasingly on social aims and on activities such as needlework and cooking, however, the W.H.A. missed the point of her campaign to expand the pastimes of women. Details of Gether's later life are unknown. The Art Gallery of New South Wales holds two of her weavings.

Select Bibliography

  • Official Record of the Otago Jubilee Industrial Exhibition, 1898
  • Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work, List of Prizes (Melb, 1907)
  • Official Souvenir Catalogue: First Australian Exhibition of Women’s Work, 1907 (Melb, 1907)
  • Sydney Club and Depot of Arts and Domestic Economy, Objects, Notice and Rules (copy in Women’s Handicrafts Assn, PAM FILE 745.06/W, State Library of New South Wales)
  • J. Kerr (ed), Heritage: The National Women’s Art Book (Syd, 1995)
  • Art & Architecture, vol 5, no 2, Mar-Apr 1908, p 50
  • J. E. Hunt, Cultivating the Arts: Sydney Women Culturists 1900-50 (Ph.D. thesis, Macquarie University, 2001).

Citation details

Jane E. Hunt, 'Gether, Susanne Vilhelmine (1857–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 15 June 2021.

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

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2021

Life Summary [details]


14 September 1857
Neksø, Bornholm, Denmark



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