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Beadle, Jane (Jean) (1868–1942)

by Wendy Birman and Evelyn Wood

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Jane (Jean) Beadle (1868-1942), Labor leader, feminist and social worker, usually known as Jean, was born on 1 January 1868 at Clunes, Victoria, daughter of George Darlington Miller, miner, and his wife Jane, née Spencer. She left school early to keep house for her widowed father, then endured a term of sweated labour in the Melbourne clothing trade, which left an indelible impression and inspired many of her future activities. On 19 May 1888 at Carlton she married the militant ironmoulder Henry Beadle. Within six weeks he was in a six-months strike and was subsequently boycotted by employers. Settled at Footscray, Jean supported her husband and helped to organize a Victorian woman's relief committee for the Broken Hill strikers of 1892 and a union of female factory workers. An associate of Dr William Maloney, she joined the Women's Suffrage Alliance and, from 1898, was prominent in the Women's Political and Social Crusade.

In 1901 the family moved to Western Australia, where Jean organized a Labor Women's organization at Fremantle in 1905 and profited from the advice of Tom Mann, Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald and his wife. When the Beadles moved to the goldfields in 1906, she formed the Eastern Goldfields Women's Labor League, representing it at the Trade Union Conference of 1907. On leaving Kalgoorlie in 1914 she donated her presentation purse of sovereigns to striking woodcutters. Joint delegate with Mrs J. B. Holman from the Labor Women's Club to the first Labor Women's Conference at Perth in October 1912, Jean Beadle was elected inaugural president. Her first motion was to request the State government, in order to increase employment, to established a clothing factory to manufacture uniforms needed by civil servants. She retained the chair for thirty years; during her term important issues included peace, disarmament, women's status, health, education, maternity allowances, pensions and child endowment. Although a committed anti-conscriptionist, she was, nevertheless, a reconciling mother-figure to the labour movement in the split in 1916-17. As vice-president of the Labor Women's Central Executive at its creation in 1927, she was soon appointed to the State Executive of the Labor Party and was a candidate for Senate pre-selection in 1931.

Associated with the Children's Court since 1915, Jean Beadle was appointed a special magistrate in 1919 and next year was among the first women to take the oath for the Perth magisterial district. She was a foundation member of the Women Justices' Association, in which she frequently held office, and took the lead in forming a similar association in Victoria. For many years she was an official visitor to the women's section of Fremantle Prison. In the 1920s she was vice-president of the Workers' Educational Association. During the Depression, she served as treasurer to the West Perth Relief Committee and was adviser to young people seeking work near her West Perth home.

Jean Beadle was co-opted to the executive of the Women's Service Guild about 1912. At its instigation in 1915, she presided over a successful protest meeting against the government's plan to extend Perth Hospital instead of building a separate maternity hospital; she later became a member of the King Edward Memorial Hospital Advisory Board and was secretary from 1921.

A small woman, always neat and immaculately dressed, Jean was a fluent and convincing speaker, highly regarded by her many friends. Survived by two sons and a daughter, she died on 22 May 1942 at her West Perth home, and was buried in the Methodist section of Karrakatta cemetery. Her death was commemorated by a special message in the Westralian Worker by Prime Minister John Curtin, who quoted Alexander Pope:

Here rests a woman, good without pretence,
Bless'd with plain reason, and with sober sense …
So unaffected, so composed in mind;
So firm, yet soft; so strong, yet so refined.

Select Bibliography

  • B. M. Rischbieth, March of Australian Women (Perth, 1964)
  • Westralian Worker, 25 Oct, 1 Nov 1912, 27 Oct, 3 Nov 1933, 29 May 1942
  • Dawn (Perth), 15 June 1926, 17 June 1942
  • Daily News (Perth), 2 July 1928, 17 June 1942
  • J. Beadle, King Edward Memorial Hospital (1936, State Library of Western Australia)
  • Australian Labor Party (Western Australia), State Executive file, 1688A/340, 454 and Premier's Department (Western Australia), file 279/20 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Wendy Birman and Evelyn Wood, 'Beadle, Jane (Jean) (1868–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/beadle-jane-jean-5163/text8671, accessed 22 November 2017.

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