Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sarah Jane Young (1866–1955)

by Helen Jones

This article was published:

Sarah Jane Young (1866-1955), political reformer, was born on 1 July 1866 at Unley, Adelaide, eighth daughter of John Forster, smith, and his wife Sarah Jane, née Jervis. Educated privately, she received coaching in mathematics and enjoyed music. Sarah was later a governess and piano teacher, and attempted freelance journalism. She lost the sight in one eye in a horse and trap accident. On 23 January 1889 in her father's East Adelaide home she married with Wesleyan Methodist forms Alfred Howard Young, a journalist; they were to have a daughter and three sons.

Inspired by Catherine Spence, she became secretary (1897) of the Effective Voting League. Styling herself Jeanne Forster Young, she was a forceful woman with finely chiselled features; she wrote and delivered authoritative lectures about proportional representation, illustrating them with lantern slides. In 1900 she and Spence campaigned in Sydney for eight weeks to have the Hare-Spence method adopted in Federal elections; they stayed there with Rose Scott. After Catherine's death, in 1910 Jeanne completed and published her mentor's unfinished autobiography—precluding Spence's niece Lucy Morice from so doing—and became prominent in the Spence Memorial and the Catherine Helen Spence scholarship committees.

During World War I Young joined the Australian Red Cross Society, the South Australian Soldiers' Fund and the Wattle Day League committees. As secretary of the league's motor ambulance committee which raised £8000, she directed a spectacular three-day exhibition and fair in 1916. She also contributed to the Register. Her jingoism alienated her husband, whom she left in 1917, though he continued to support her. That year she became a justice of the peace and in 1918 was secretary of the Women's Representation League. In 1916 she had been the first woman appointed to the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery board, under (Sir) William Sowden's chairmanship; she contributed actively and argumentatively to its meetings until 1926; she resigned in 1928, by which time she was almost blind. Adjusting to her affliction, she developed an excellent memory for voices. She founded the Proportional Representation Group in 1930.

Jeanne returned to Alfred: in 1932 they spent eight months abroad, vainly seeking a cure in Switzerland for her blindness. In England she addressed proportional representation functions and attended a Commonwealth League conference as a delegate from South Australia's Women's Non-Party Association, of which she had been a foundation member (1909). After her husband's death in 1936, she completed her discursive Catherine Helen Spence (Melbourne, 1937). She had also written two unpublished novels, and become vice-president of the Writers' Fellowship of South Australia. As an Independent advocating proportional representation, she had campaigned unsuccessfully for the House of Assembly (Sturt, 1918; Burnside, 1938) and for the Senate (1937). President of the Democratic Women's Association (1937), she was appointed O.B.E. in 1938. She published her last cogent brochure, Proportional Representation in a Nutshell, in 1945. Survived by her daughter and a son, Mrs Young died at Rose Park on 11 April 1955 and was buried in North Road cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Annual Report of the Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery, Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1917 (13)
  • Red Cross Record (Adelaide), Sept 1916, Oct 1917
  • H. Jones, ‘A postscript to the life of Catherine Helen Spence’, Journal of Historical Society of South Australia, 15, 1987, also 16, 1988, p 165
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 31 Aug 1916, 9 June 1938, 14 Apr 1955
  • Observer (Adelaide), 9 Sept 1916
  • Electoral Reform Society of South Australia, records, 1910-75 (State Library of South Australia)
  • South Australian Soldiers' Fund, minutes, 2 July 1915, 4 June 1925 (State Library of South Australia)
  • Rose Scott correspondence (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Helen Jones, 'Young, Sarah Jane (1866–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 24 June 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

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Young, Jeanne Forster
  • Forster, Sarah Jane

1 July, 1866
Unley, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


11 April, 1955 (aged 88)
Rose Park, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia