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Rose Anna Summerfield (1864–1922)

by Mark Hearn

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Rose Anna Summerfield (1864-1922), feminist and labour leader, was born on 18 April 1864 at Middleton Creek, Victoria, third child of John Stone, a Polish-born miner, and his wife Mary, née Dargan, from Ireland. Rose's precocious radical consciousness was stirred by the Australasian Secularist Association in the mid-1880s, and the influence of Joseph Symes. By 1886 she was active in the A.S.A. in Melbourne as a Sunday School teacher. On 23 March that year at Fitzroy she married with the rites of the Free Church of England a fellow freethinker Henry Lewis Summerfield, a 55-year-old English-born widower and tailor. They moved to Sydney and settled at Waverley; a son was born in 1887.

Rose's secularism developed into an impassioned mix of socialism, temperance and women's rights. Described as 'a rattling lecturer and organiser—full of fire and energy', with a strong face and intense gaze—she spread 'the gospel of discontent' from the early 1890s. She wrote for the Democrat, the Liberator and the Northern People, 'any paper that was battling for something better'. As 'Rose Hummer', she regularly contributed to the Hummer and its successor, the (Sydney) Worker. In a July 1892 lecture, 'Master and Man', for the Australian Socialist League, Rose expressed an urgent alienation and idealism, preaching working-class agitation for 'emancipation' before their masters subjected them to the status of 'almond-eyed slaves'.

By August 1892 Rose had emerged as the leading organizer of female workers in Sydney. With the encouragement of W. G. Spence, she established a women's division of the nascent Australian Workers' Union. She also conducted a labour exchange for female workers in Castlereagh Street and proselytized across country New South Wales. These activities collapsed as a result of the 1890s depression and bank crashes. In October 1892 she felt compelled to reject an appeal from the Trades and Labor Council of New South Wales to organize women in the clothing trades, although in January-March 1893 she assisted John 'Chummy' Fleming to organize Melbourne bootmakers, part of an unsuccessful effort to spread the A.W.U. campaign to Victoria.

Urging working-class women to their 'duty to ask for the vote', Rose turned her energies to the Womanhood Suffrage League of New South Wales. She established the league's Waverley branch and served as a member of its governing council in 1893-94. Also active in the temperance cause, in 1896 she was on the executive of the Metropolitan District Lodge No.2, and the Hearts of Oak Lodge No.188, Waverley, of the Independent Order of Good Templars. She lectured on 'Woman's Place in the Temperance Movement' in January.

Henry had died in 1890. On 22 September 1897 at the registrar's office, Waverley, Rose married John Cadogan, a shearers' cook and mine manager. Disillusioned with Australian workers and Labor politics, she resigned from the A.S.L. in 1897, and bitterly lamented workmen who were 'gulled' by the 'mighty bribe' of suffrage. William Lane's New Australia co-operative settlement in Paraguay promised socialism, equal rights for women, temperance and racial exclusion; the Cadogans sailed from Sydney in April 1899, farewelled by 'every section of the reform movement'.

Paraguay, however, only intensified Rose's alienation. By 1901 she felt outcast amongst the 'ignorant and superstitious' locals. In 1908 the Cadogans left New Australia to become shopkeepers at nearby Yataity. By 1915 she pined for the scent of wattle, a longing cruelly denied by the loss of the family's savings in a bank failure only months before they finalized arrangements to return to Australia in 1920. Despite her despair of the Paraguayans, she worked among them for many years, treating malaria and hookworm with herbal cures.

Predeceased by the son of her first marriage, Rose died of cancer on 14 April 1922 at Villa Rica, Paraguay. Her husband survived her, as did their four sons, one of whom (Leon) inherited his mother's passion for social justice, expressed in anthropological research and campaigns for the rights of indigenous Paraguayans. Rose Cadogan, a pioneer of emancipation, was buried in the Las Ovejas cemetery at New Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Souter, A Peculiar People (Syd, 1968)
  • V. Burgmann, ‘In Our Time’ (Syd, 1985)
  • A. Whitehead, Paradise Mislaid (Brisb, 1997)
  • Labour History, no 87, Nov 2004, p 65
  • Liberator (Melbourne), 14 Feb 1886, p 184, 21 Mar 1886, pp 267 & 272, 11 Apr 1886, p 313
  • Hummer (Sydney), 23 Apr 1892, p 3, 30 July 1892, p 3, 13 Aug 1892, p 2, 3 Sept 1892, p 3
  • Worker (Sydney), 8 Oct 1892, p 2, 29 Oct 1892, p 3, 4 Mar 1893, p 4, 29 Jan 1898, p 7, 19 Feb 1898, p 8, 1 Apr 1899, p 3, 23 Nov 1901, p 1
  • Shearers’ and General Laborers’ Record, 15 Mar 1893
  • Australian Temperance World and Good Templar Record, 2 Mar 1896, p 3, 1 Apr 1896, p 3
  • Common Cause (Sydney), 28 July 1922, p 12.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Mark Hearn, 'Summerfield, Rose Anna (1864–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Cadogan, Rose Anna
  • Stone, Rose Anna

18 April, 1864
Middleton Creek, Victoria, Australia


14 April, 1922 (aged 57)
Villa Rica, Paraguay

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.

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Key Places
Political Activism