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Jane (Jean) Daley (1881–1948)

by Judith Smart

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Jane (Jean) Daley (1881-1948), political organizer, was born on 24 September 1881 at Mount Gambier, South Australia, daughter of Robert Dennis Daley and his wife Julia Ann, née Scott. Jane was educated at convents of Mercy in Mount Gambier and Adelaide, and then, when the family moved to Victoria, at Loreto Convent, Portland. Her father was one of the earliest members of the Amalgamated Shearers' Union and she was 'reared in a political atmosphere'. In 1906 in Melbourne she bore a child and returned to live with her parents at Wallacedale near Hamilton.

About 1909 Jean, as she became known, made her home in Melbourne, and became active in Labor politics. She joined the Women's Organizing Committee of the Political Labor Council of Victoria but after February 1914, when it was declared to have no official standing, she devoted herself to general industrial matters. In 1916 she was a delegate to the Trades Hall Council for the Hotel and Caterers' Union and was one of the earliest members of the Militant Propaganda League. She was also an executive member of the Victorian Socialist Party in 1916-17 and of its women's section, the Women's Socialist League.

Jean Daley was active in the No-Conscription Fellowship set up by Bob Ross and organized the Labor Women's Anti-Conscription Committee formed in September 1916. However, she was not associated with the attempt in the following January to make this a permanent organization. She did not support Vida Goldstein as candidate for the Federal seat of Kooyong in 1917 but was a vice-president of the rival Labor Women's Campaign Committee. During 1917 Daley was one of the party's most effective speakers in campaigns against the high cost of living and conscription. Concerned also about problems such as alcohol consumption and venereal disease, she spoke out in favour of the P.L.C. policy of compulsory notification of V.D.

When the Women's Central Organizing Committee was formally recreated in March 1918, Daley was elected first president; she held this position until 1920 and for most of that time wrote 'We women' in Labor Call. Under her presidency, the W.C.O.C. firmly supported pacifism, efforts towards the industrial organization of women, and the protection and education of children.

At the State conference of the Australian Labor Party in 1919 Jean Daley was defeated by Mary Rogers for the new post of woman organizer but was elected a Victorian delegate to the next federal conference in 1921. With Mary Rogers and Muriel Heagney she called a conference of female delegates of all unions with women members in April 1921. Three months later she was elected to the central executive of the party and in July next year was one of two women delegates to the All Australia Trade Union Congress. At that time the Union Record of Seattle published a series of articles written by her on Australia's fight against conscription (later published as A Bird's Eye View of the Conscription Campaign). In December 1922 she stood for Kooyong—the first woman in Victoria to stand for Federal parliament as an endorsed Labor candidate—but was defeated. Next year in March she and Muriel Heagney organized a maternity allowance conference for Australian women's organizations; two hundred delegates from all States attended.

In 1926 Daley became the woman organizer for the State. The fruition of her work was the formation of the Labor Women's Interstate Executive in 1929, of which she was secretary from 1930 until her retirement in 1947. From 1933 she was also State secretary for the W.C.O.C. and was thus responsible for organization and reports of activities at both State and Federal level. During the Depression much of her work was concentrated on the problems of unemployed women and girls and undernourished children.

While on the central executive of the Victorian branch of the A.L.P., Daley worked on the organizational committee, and, during the war years, on the social services and medical and health committees. In 1946-47 she was one of three W.C.O.C. representatives on the party's education committee.

It was a saying at the Trades Hall that 'when Miss Daley is not working for the A.L.P. she is dreaming about it'. When roused in debate she could 'flay an adversary' and often prevailed in verbal duels with the men. In 1947 ill health forced her to resign from the central executive. A month later she resigned her other posts, but not before finally lambasting the A.L.P.'s male leaders whom she accused of being uninterested in organizing women.

Jean Daley did not marry. In 1924 she ran a confectioner's shop at Northcote; from about 1926 she lived with her mother and other members of her family at Northcote, until the late 1930s, when she bought a house at Auburn which she divided into flats. She died of liver disease on 5 November 1948 at the Alfred Hospital and was cremated. Labor Call paid tribute to 'her ardent exposition of Labor policy [which] awakened in women a political consciousness and an awareness of the important role they had in national affairs'.

Select Bibliography

  • Labor Call, 15 June, 21 Sept, 30 Nov 1916, 8 Feb, 5 Apr, 10 May, 7 June, 23 Aug 1917, 28 Feb, 28 Mar, 16 May, 20 June 1918, 14 Dec 1922, 12 Nov 1948
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 10 Mar 1947
  • Herald (Melbourne), 23 May 1947, 6 Nov 1948
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Nov 1948
  • S. Merrifield collection (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Judith Smart, 'Daley, Jane (Jean) (1881–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


24 September, 1881
Mount Gambier, South Australia, Australia


5 November, 1948 (aged 67)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.