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Jessie Frederica Sawyer (1870–1947)

by Julie Gorrell

This article was published:

Jessie Frederica Pauline Sawyer (1870?-1947), community leader, was born probably in 1870 at Wantabadgery, Gundagai, New South Wales, eldest of at least seven children of Andrew John Allen Beveridge, a grazier from Scotland, and his English-born wife Louisa Theresa, née Robinson. On 11 February 1891 at her parents' property, Dollar Vale, near Junee, Jessie married with Anglican rites Matthew Sawyer (d.1941), a grazier. They settled on Eulomo station, Bethungra, where she bore five children.

In 1922 Mrs Sawyer was one of three foundation vice-presidents of the Country Women's Association of New South Wales. That year she also set up the association's Cootamundra branch. She was elected State president in 1928. Throughout the decade of her presidency, she initiated many successful ventures. Following the collapse of the wool market in 1929, the C.W.A.—at her initiative—provided much needed support for the 'Use More Wool Campaign'. She encouraged members to use wool in the handicraft exhibitions mounted by the association, first in country towns and later in Sydney at David Jones Ltd's Elizabeth Street store. She supported further exhibitions in 1933, 1935, 1936 and 1937.

As president, Sawyer committed C.W.A. members to supporting the promotion of the 'Gift of Lamb' for Christmas 1934, which had been launched in an effort to boost the sale of that meat to Britain. She used these trade promotions to forward the interests of the association, to consolidate links with its counterparts in Britain, and to encourage a sense of solidarity and common purpose among country women. In 1937 she compiled (with Sara Moore-Sims) The Coronation Cookery Book; 55,000 copies of the recipe book had been sold worldwide by 1945, the year of its fourth edition. She contributed numerous articles to the C.W.A. section of Country Life.

Sawyer considered it her duty to travel extensively to meet members of the association; her trips while president totalled more than 150,000 miles (241,401 km). The C.W.A. flourished: its membership rose from some 7000 to over 18,000, and financial resources and community activities increased. Sawyer was particularly interested in the fourteen maternity hospitals established in country areas and maintained by the C.W.A. Through the C.W.A. she raised funds to aid the New South Wales Bush Nursing Association, and to support maternal health and infant welfare by means of a network of rest and holiday homes, hostels and baby health centres. She was vitally interested in the Australian Aerial Medical Services, for which she raised £1000 by an appeal to members.

Her willingness to work tirelessly for the movement endeared her to its members, as did her loyalty, sympathy, friendship and self-sacrificing service. To cries of 'No, no, we don't want to lose you', Mrs Sawyer retired from the presidency in 1938 and was succeeded by her kinswoman Ada Beveridge. Sawyer had been appointed O.B.E. in 1934. She remained active in the association and served (1942-47) on the New South Wales divisional council of the Australian Red Cross Society. A member of both the Queen's and Macquarie clubs in Sydney, she enjoyed music and reading, and was usually photographed wearing pearls. Jessie Sawyer died on 28 December 1947 at the Scottish Hospital, Paddington, and was buried in the Church of England cemetery, Cootamundra. Her two daughters and one of her three sons survived her. As a tribute to her commitment, the C.W.A. renamed (1950) its holiday home at Batlow after her.

Select Bibliography

  • Country Women's Association of New South Wales, Progress (Syd, 1938), and The Silver Years (Syd, 1947) and The Golden Years (Syd, 1972)
  • H. Townsend, Serving the Country (Syd, 1988)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19, 20 Apr, 6 Oct 1928, 2 May 1930, 17 Apr 1931, 18 Mar 1932, 25 Sept, 10 Oct 1933, 1 Jan, 4, 5 Apr, 28 Aug, 3 Sept 1934, 11, 27, 29 Apr, 20 Sept 1935, 6 May 1936, 19 Mar 1937, 28 Apr, 22, 24 Oct 1938, 24 Apr 1939, 29 Dec 1947.

Citation details

Julie Gorrell, 'Sawyer, Jessie Frederica (1870–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Beveridge, Jessie Frederica

Gundagai, New South Wales, Australia


28 December, 1947 (aged ~ 77)
Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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