ALICE HENRY and HER TIMES
When Alice Henry died, public interest was taken up with World War II. Her work in Australia was practically forgotten, her real career had been in America. Few Australians realised what part she had played in shaping those two countries as they are to-day
Too few Melbourne people know of Alice Henry’s existence; this writer got to know her at the Public Library of Victoria, where she was notable for knowing lifer way around the overseas press and the statistics and official publications of several countries over a wide period, including the present. She would enter the Inquiry Room with a list of accurate references, speak of public affairs — when she spoke at all — with the familiarity of a .participant, and depart with voluminous notes. All this with, the energy and single-mindedness of a young student or research worker; yet she must have been then nearly eighty.
She was very short, with a stoop. At first she was hard to “place.” She might have been an Australian; but of two or more generations back. Her speech was of a woman who had had to be at the ready, for dispute or oratory. A hard clear voice, an accent that was of no particular English-speaking country, yet would go down well in any of them, a flow and arrangement of words that suggested much speaking and writing. Everything about her spoke of a life of hard work. An obviously clear head, bluntness, a little incidental dry wit, no time for humor, a long waterproof cape, some sort of hat, shoes fit for scudding around the side streets of strange cities, a red notebook and a pencil. In the street she walked with head forward, and at a distance, looked to be talking to herself; Perhaps she was, but not aloud; perhaps the interior monologue that becomes habitual in one whose job has Involved day-to-day decisions which have had to be justified to others, forcibly, in words.
The Age, 22 February 1947
“The Trade Union Woman” by Alice Henry (Project Gutenberg)
THE LATE ALICE HENRY
IN the latest edition to hand of Life and Labor Bulletin, the official organ of the U.S. National Trade Union League, Mary E. Dreier pays a fine tribute to the part played by the late Alice Henry in the development of Labor consciousness in the working men and women of the United States. From Australia, she writes, comes word that our old, tried and true co-worker, Alice Henry, has crossed the threshold to another life. She died in Melbourne on the 14th February.
Alice Henry came to America in the height of her powers, a newspaper woman of ability, a feminist, an ardent supporter of Labor, with a free and inquiring mind and spirit. After lecturing on conditions in Australia and the Women’s Movement, she was asked in 1908 to conduct the Women’s Department of the Union Labor Advocate, official organ of the Chicago Federation of Labor, the Chicago Women’s Trade Union Leagues, and other local Unions. She began her work when our Leagues were only beginning to function effectively, when working women were exploited every where in this country, when there was ho knowledge of industrial conditions as they affected women who labored, when the girls in the factories and sweatshop? were “the forgotten of men.” Miss -Henry brought to these matters wisdom,, devotion and service of a high order. When the National League, under the leadership of Mrs. Raymond Robins, felt the time ripe for a periodical of its own, Miss Henry was appointed chairman of the committee to plan for our national magazine, and she be came its first editor. Life and Labor was born in the midst of great social unrest among workers everywhere, but particularly among the women of the needle trades. Under Miss Henry’s direction it became an interpreter not only of working conditions, but of the strivings and aspirations of hundreds of thousands of working women, and for the first time in the history of our country there was a voice, speaking for and through them.
Still later, in 1920, when the great strikes had made the officers of the League conscious of the need to develop leadership among working women themselves, Miss Henry was appointed Secretary of our Educational Department, and later became the Director of the National League’s Training School for Active Workers in the Labor Movement. The school was the first of its kind in this country, and had the co-operation of the University of Chicago, where our students were admitted to the classes of economics and other courses. In spite of her many activities. Alice Henry found time to write two books, “The Trade Union Woman” and “Women in the Labor Movement.” In 1924 she was granted leave of absence to study workers’ education abroad and to rest. From this she returned to renew her work with vigor and enthusiasm. Finally, she decided to return to the land of her birth to spend with her brother the closing years of her life. She went with a heavy heart, for she had come to love this land of her adoption, where life was in turmoil and where her abilities and devotion > to the cause of humanity were put to fine use. She was so completely selfless that her personal life was absorbed in her work and service for women who toil, and this had be come her very existence.
Her old friends and fellow workers will always remember with deep gratitude her vigorous, stimulating mind, her enthusiasm and zeal, her personality and warm friend ships. The younger generation, who had not the privilege of knowing her and cannot learn much from these inadequate words, may per haps feel what an inspiration her life must have been to all working women and men, and to the League she loved and served.
Voice, 18 June 1943