Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Skitch, Marie Elizabeth (1900–1989)

by Ruth Donovan and Peter Donovan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Marie Elizabeth Skitch (1900–1989), labour activist and housewives’ advocate, was born on 7 January 1900 at Bethnal Green, London, daughter of Alfred James Craft, upholsterer, and his wife Florence, née May. On 29 September 1917 at St Faith’s parish church, Stoke Newington, London, Marie married South Australian-born Cecil Ernest Lee Skitch (1894-1956) who was serving in the Australian Imperial Force in London. The couple moved to Australia in 1918. Cecil found work on a pastoral station in western New South Wales, but the isolation did not suit Marie who insisted they move to Adelaide.

During the 1920s Marie and Cecil Skitch became closely involved in socialist politics. Identified with the Communist Party of Australia and the Industrial Workers of the World, Cecil was arrested in September 1926 for speaking without a permit at the ‘Labor Ring’ in Adelaide’s Botanic Park. In October that year Marie made her first public speech, also at the park, and she too was arrested. An opinionated and forceful woman, Skitch defended herself in court, claiming that she was ‘standing for liberty’. Further meetings were held at Botanic Park in November 1926 at which both Marie and Cecil spoke, ostensibly in defence of free speech; Marie scandalised the audience by claiming to prefer the Red Flag to the Union Jack.

In 1927 Cecil ran as an Industrial Labour candidate for the seat of Adelaide, but was defeated. The following year he published Woman’s Destiny and Birth Control. Banned in Melbourne, the book examined ‘the causes of woman’s inferior social status’ and recounted many ‘shameful, sordid things’.

The Skitchs moderated their politics during the 1930s, becoming actively involved in the Australian Labor Party. Cecil unsuccessfully contested the Federal seats of Boothby (1931) and Barker (1934, 1940) as an ALP candidate. In 1937 the party did not endorse him for the State seat of Gawler. That year Marie gained preselection for the State seat of Thebarton over the sitting member who then ran as an Independent. The first woman endorsed as an ALP candidate, Marie was president of the Labor Women’s Central Organising Committee and Labor Women’s Conference. On election day in 1938 she led the poll on first preference votes (31 per cent), but failed to win a majority. The seat went to the man she had defeated for preselection when the other candidates—all men—placed her last in their preferences. In October 1940 Marie was elected a member of the ALP State executive.

A regular contributor to the Workers’ Weekly Herald, Skitch became a member of the management committee and took over responsibility for the women’s column in the early 1940s. Her articles dealing with women’s and consumer issues brought her to the attention of the State government, which appointed her to the Bread Prices Committee (1939), the Firewood Supply Committee (1942) and the South Australian Advisory Council of the Australian Women’s Land Army (1942).

Already a member of the South Australian branch of the Housewives’ Association, Skitch was elected president in July 1940 after having served on the executive for eight years and as vice-president for four years. She became the association’s organising secretary and a life vice-president in October 1943. She again served as president in 1949-51 and 1959-62. In this role she complained about rising costs and argued that the basic living wage was insufficient to keep a family, while the basic female wage was insufficient to keep a single woman. Marie became the Association’s delegate to the National Council of Women in September 1959 and a member of the Australian Consumers’ Association in July 1960. In 1961 she was elected deputy federal president at the conference of the Federated Association of Australian Housewives held in Adelaide.

Some sources record Skitch’s maiden name as Croft, probably as a result of her broad London accent. Elocution lessons helped to transform her into a confident and capable speaker. Predeceased by Cecil and survived by their three children, Marie died on 15 October 1989 at Westbourne Park, Adelaide, and was cremated. The South Australia Labor Women’s Executive Committee runs the Molly Byrne/Marie Skitch fund which was set up to offer financial support to ALP women candidates for political office.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Jones, In Her Own Name (1994)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 26 Oct 1926, p 14, 11 Dec 1931, p 25, 18 Dec 1937, p 26, 21 Mar 1938, p 16, 24 July 1940, p 6
  • R. Donovan, The Housewives’ Association (BA Hons thesis, Flinders University, 1999)
  • SA Housewives Association records (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ruth Donovan and Peter Donovan, 'Skitch, Marie Elizabeth (1900–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/skitch-marie-elizabeth-15744/text26932, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 15 December 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019