Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edith Emily Jones (1875–1952)

by Fiona Paisley

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Edith Emily Jones (c.1875-1952), community worker and Aboriginal rights advocate, was born in Clapham, London, daughter of a middle-class father named Brawn. Becoming a secondary school teacher, Edith was lecturing at Glamorgan Pupil Teachers' College in southern Wales when she met Rev. John Jones (1875-1942), a Church of England clergyman, whom she married in June 1904 at Clapham, London. He had been born on 17 January 1875 in Wales. They were to have two sons.

In 1904 the couple travelled to Australia where John became head of the Church of England mission on Thursday Island, as well as vicar and tutor of Bishop's College there. By 1910 they were back in England and he was secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel at Southwark, London. Their sons remained in an English boarding school when in 1912 John was appointed general secretary (chairman from 1917) of the Australian Board of Missions, based in Sydney. The Joneses toured Australia promoting mission work with Aborigines. Edith's energetic approach to social and political reform soon led her to form the first branches of the women's auxiliary of the mission board, and she campaigned successfully for women's greater involvement through their direct appointment to the board. In 1913 she met one of her predecessors at Thursday Island, deaconess Florence Buchanan, and honoured her life in a book, published in London in 1921.

A member of the girls' department of the Young Women's Christian Association, Jones served on the executive of the National Council of Women and as a member of its social hygiene committee. She and her husband moved to the East St Kilda vicarage in Melbourne in the 1920s and she was appointed a justice of the peace in the Victorian Children's Court. Joining the Victorian Women Citizens' Movement in the early 1920s, Jones became its second president and nominated as its candidate for the Federal seat of Fawkner in 1925, but withdrew due to opposition from churchwardens at St Kilda. Her growing expertise on Aboriginal issues was recognized by the Australian government in 1929 when she gave evidence on Aboriginal status and conditions to a royal commission on the constitution. She advocated Federal control of Aboriginal affairs and the rights of Aboriginal women. Through organizations affiliated with the Australian Federation of Women Voters, Mrs Jones joined an international network engaged in progressive reform. She attended the London-based British Commonwealth League conferences from their inception in 1925, and was appointed to its executive in 1930.

A photograph of her in 1925 showed a good-looking, fine-featured woman with bobbed hair and elegant dress. After returning to England in 1929, when her husband became rector of Marlborough, Jones presented over the following years a series of conference papers highly critical of race policy in Australia. Through the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines' Protection Society, she formed a special committee in 1932 to provide a focal point for international campaigns for Aboriginal rights, and in the 1930s she and John were outspoken delegates to the B.C.L. calling for Aboriginal citizenship, land, health and welfare reform. John died on 13 May 1942 at Hove, Sussex. Edith died on 24 November 1952 at Bromley, Kent.

Select Bibliography

  • M. M. Bennett, The Australian Aboriginal as a Human Being (Lond, 1930)
  • M. Lake, Getting Equal (Syd, 1999)
  • F. Paisley, Loving Protection? (Melb, 2000)
  • Woman’s World, 1 Jan 1925, p 66
  • Farmers’ Advocate, 27 Feb 1925
  • Age (Melbourne), 28 Sept 1928, p 7
  • Dawn (Perth), 16 Aug 1929, p 4, 21 Aug 1929, p 4, 20 Aug 1930, p 7
  • Anti-slavery and Aborigines’ Protection Society papers (Rhodes House, Oxford, England)
  • Bessie Rischbeith papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Fiona Paisley, 'Jones, Edith Emily (1875–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 June 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
  • Brawn, Edith

London, Middlesex, England


24 November, 1952 (aged ~ 77)
Bromley, Kent, England

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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.