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Elite women's clubs in the 1930s across three Australian states: a prosopographical study

Josephine May (University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 3 April 2023

Issue publication date: 8 May 2023




The purpose of this paper is to explore the clubs and club memberships of 491 elite women in three eastern Australian states in the 1930s. It is the second part of a descriptive analysis of these women's biographical sketches in Who's Who-type collections, now out of copyright, published in Australia in the 1930s: Victoria (1934), New South Wales (1936) and Queensland (1939).


Using mixed methods within a prosopographical approach, described fully in the first paper on these data, this is mainly a quantitative analysis. After the numbers of club memberships of the women are given and compared on a state-by-state basis, a taxonomy of five main types of clubs was created and the clubs and club memberships listed for each of them. The five types are: (1) social and cultural clubs; (2) sporting clubs; (3) imperial, national and patriotic clubs; (4) professional clubs; and (5) service and educational clubs. The paper then explores the similarities and variations at the state level in the women's club memberships across the five types. It should be noted that the article does not include charities to which the women contributed because they required a separate typology and analysis to be taken up elsewhere.


The paper frames women's clubs as informal educative networks where women were able to acquire the knowledge and skills in modernity for effective participation in the public sphere. The analysis shows that three-quarters of the 491 women were members of one club or more. Overall, the women listed 340 separate clubs with 1,029 memberships across the five types. The state-by-state analysis giving lists of clubs, and numbers of memberships per club in each type, enumerated variations of women's clubs at the state level. Overall, the analysis suggests that the “club habit” for such women was a substantial historical phenomenon at this time.


This is the first study to encompass women's club memberships across three Australian states. Quantification of women's involvement in clubs has proved difficult, however, by using a prosopographical approach, this study creates a unique quantitative picture of the club data contained in 491 elite women's biographical sketches from the 1930s.



May, J. (2023), "Elite women's clubs in the 1930s across three Australian states: a prosopographical study", History of Education Review, Vol. 52 No. 1, pp. 49-68.



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