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Margaret (Margy) Windeyer (1866–1939)

by Heather Radi

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This is a shared entry with Mary Elizabeth Windeyer

Lady Mary Elizabeth Windeyer (1836-1912), suffrage campaigner, and Margaret Windeyer (1866-1939), librarian, were mother and daughter. Mary was baptized on 2 April 1837 at Buxted, Sussex, England, second daughter of eleven children of Rev. Robert Thorley Bolton, a clergyman of the Church of England, and his wife Jane Martha, née Ball. The Boltons arrived in Sydney in the Strathfieldsaye on 25 July 1839. Mary spent her childhood at Hexham where she married (Sir) William Charles Windeyer on 31 December 1857. Between 1859 and 1876 nine children were born of the marriage, the third daughter dying in infancy. During bouts of ill health, Mary took her children to stay with her mother-in-law at Tomago. Both women were devout; both offered William political advice.

Initially directing her philanthropy towards saving infant life, in 1874 Mary supported a foundling hospital—to 'remove temptation to infanticide'—and its reorganization in 1875 as a home (later Infants' Home, Ashfield) for destitute and homeless new mothers, provided they remained in residence to breastfeed their babies. For older children in need of care, she favoured 'boarding out' from orphanages, a system which her friend Caroline Emily Clark had begun in South Australia. William Windeyer's report on public charities reflected Mary's views. Their friendship with (Sir) Henry Parkes helped Mary's lobbying and facilitated a grant for an experimental 'cottage home'. The campaign concluded with the passage of the State Children Relief Act (1881) and the establishment of a board to oversee the fostering of children from the colony's orphanages; Mary Windeyer was a board-member (1881-86 and 1889-97). In 1886 she and William visited England.

Back in Sydney she organized the Exhibition of Women's Industries and Centenary Fair 1888, and, with proceeds from a sale of work, financed the Temporary Aid Society which lent money to women who had encountered financial difficulties. Mary's philanthropy broadened into a programme of moderate feminist reforms, encompassing higher education, expanded employment opportunities especially in the professions, improved hospital facilities and political rights. Lady Windeyer was foundation president of the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales. When the rules which she had modelled on Mary Lee's advice were changed in 1893, she resigned as president, but remained active in the campaign as convenor of the franchise department of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union.

She was an honorary secretary for the second Australasian Conference on Charity in 1891 and a committee-member of the Thirlmere Home for Consumptives. In her endeavours to promote economic independence for women, Lady Windeyer sponsored a silk-growing co-operative, a shorthand writers and typists' society, and hospital training for nurses. As organizer of the women's industries section of the colony's exhibit at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, United States of America, she asserted that women's work went 'beyond the product of the needle'. Her proposal in 1893 for a women's hospital had dual aims: to help poor women and to train nurses. Beginning as a district service, the hospital opened its own premises in 1896 and, at a new location, became the Women's Hospital, Crown Street, Sydney.

Margaret, her fifth daughter, was born on 24 November 1866 in Sydney. Sharing her mother's endeavours to advance women's opportunities and political rights, she belonged to Louisa Lawson's Dawn Club and issued invitations for the meeting at her parents' home at which the Women's Literary Society was formed, the nucleus of the later Womanhood Suffrage League. Margaret joined the league's executive and became a member of the committee formed to establish Women's College within the University of Sydney.

Appointed a commissioner to the Chicago exhibition in 1893, she contacted other women's organizations in the United States and attended the World's Congress of Representative Women. On her return, she convened the meeting that established the National Council of Women of New South Wales and served as corresponding secretary (1896-97). It was to Margaret that Maybanke Wolstenholme turned in 1895 on feeling the strain of producing Women's Voice, though nothing came of her offer to hand over the paper to Margaret. Mother and daughter were in England in 1897, Mary preparing to travel to Canada for the world convention of the W.C.T.U. and Margaret to attend the International Council of Women, when William died unexpectedly. Mary returned to live at Tomago, taking an interest in farm management, her local church and the Newcastle Kindergarten Society. Survived by five daughters and three sons (including Richard and William), she died at Tomago on 3 December 1912 and was buried in the Anglican section of Raymond Terrace cemetery. Her estate was sworn for probate at £11,408.

Margaret went to New York where in August 1899 she satisfactorily completed the two-year course at New York State Library. After further experience, including an appointment at the library of Wells College, Aurora, New York, she came back to Sydney. Her earlier applications for employment in Australia had been rejected on the grounds of her sex and age, but H. C. L. Anderson had encouraged her to become thoroughly acquainted with Dewey's classification. On 22 July 1901 her appointment to the Public Library of New South Wales as a cataloguer was secured with the introduction of special library entrance examinations. Several able women joined the staff about this time. In January 1910 Margaret was appointed assistant to the Mitchell Library collection, but was twice passed over for the position of senior cataloguer. Anderson praised her as 'an expert in the Dewey system and a cataloguer of more than usual intelligence'; F. M. Bladen minuted that she was very diligent and very efficient, but later librarians found her difficult. She retired in 1926.

In these years Margaret was extensively engaged in feminist activities and was reputedly one of the best speakers in Sydney. She served on the council of Women's College in 1907-39, and worked for the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales, the Parks and Playgrounds Movement, the Professional Women Workers' Association and the National Council of Women (although never on its executive, she was made honorary life president in 1918).

Book clubs and children's libraries became Margaret's special interest. In 1909 she helped to start the Bush Book Club with which she remained associated until 1939. She urged the Playgrounds Movement to introduce books to its establishments and the City of Sydney Public Library to open a children's book room. She lived with her sister Jane at Elizabeth Bay. Margaret Windeyer died on 11 August 1939 in St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Radi (ed), 200 Australian Women (Syd, 1988)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Mar 1896, 15, 21 Aug 1939
  • Bulletin, 23 May 1903
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 22 Apr 1907
  • M. R. Talbot, The Library Association of Australasia, 1896-1902 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1985)
  • J. Cleary, Women Librarians at the Public Library of New South Wales: The First Generation (typescript, 1989, copy held University of Newcastle Library)
  • Henry Parkes papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Scott family papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Windeyer papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Windeyer, Margaret (Margy) (1866–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Margaret Windeyer, n.d.

Margaret Windeyer, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales, 862166

Life Summary [details]


24 November, 1866
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


11 August, 1939 (aged 72)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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