Mrs Helen Robertson aged 89 years who died yesterday at her home in Rupert street, Collingwood was one of the foundation members of the former Tailoress’s Union which was formed in 1880. Mrs Robertson, who arrived in Victoria from Scotland in 1853 continued her association with the Clothing Trades Union for 50 years. She was a foundation member of a committee which erected the Female Operatives Hall on the site of the Trades Hall buildings. The Argus, 24 June 1937

From “‘We have no redress unless we strike’:Class, Gender and Activism in the Melbourne Tailoresses’ Strike, 1882–83”, by Danielle Thornton, which you can read here:

“When she was interviewed by the Clothing Trades Gazette in 1922, Helen told how she and ‘three or four’ others, among them Lucy Moody and Mary Wise, sick of being ‘treated like animals’ by their employers, had resolved to start a union…. Helen remembered how she, Lucy Moody and Mary Wise had acted covertly, on one occasion plastering the factories with ‘dodgers’–-handbills-–under the cover of night. Another time, she and her band of committed activists led a rally to Parliament House, presumably in support of the Factory Act, wondering all the while how long it would be before they were found out and sacked. Eventually, another worker betrayed them. ‘Opposition came from all quarters’, she remembered, and she had been labelled ‘an agitator’ and boycotted by employers. Undeterred, her gang of ‘staunch fighters’ had ‘stuck all along’, stoically ‘battling the might of the employers’ until a Factory Act was at last passed. ‘That’, Helen recalled, ‘was really the starting point of our improvement’.”

Entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography

A short entry on University of Sydney’s Working Lives labour/social history site.

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