LetterThe archives document the lives and issues of vital importance to Australian women. They cover attitudes to topics as varied as women and the church, women’s rights, abortion law reform, family planning, contraception, the peace movement, women’s refuges, rape crisis centres, health care, discrimination against women in the workforce, the fight for equal pay, struggles for government funded child care, women and advertising and women in local government.

The archives include letters, diaries, journals, the papers of women’s organisations and audio recordings. Access to the database can be gained by contacting the Library.

The  archives hold approximately 132 archival collections. The focus of the collection essentially is on Australian women of the 20th century although some international material is included where it is relevant. Most of the material is contemporary and documents ‘second wave Australian feminism’. The material dates from the 1970s and 1980s to the present day. A few collections date back to the turn of the 20th century.

Included in the archives are papers of diverse women’s groups such as the Australian Council for Women, Canberra Women’s Archives, Association of Non English Speaking Background Women of Australia, King George V Women’s Advocacy Group, Parent Centres of Australia, Nursing Mothers’ Association, Matrix Guild, Sydney Older Women’s Network, Older Women’s Network (ACTION), Australian Women’s Local Government Association, War Widows Guild of Australia and the Women’s Reconciliation Network. There are also papers from defunct groups such as Women and Management and Capital Women.

The archives have collected papers from individual women from all over Australia. These include the collections of songwriter and writer Meta MacLean, artist Helen Sanderson and writer Helen Ruby from Queensland; political activist Josie Conway; Olympic swimsuit designer Gloria Mortimer-Dunn and Betty Hart from NSW; Betty Searle and Biff Ward from ACT and Josephine Dowling from WA. The Library holds original manuscripts and published works of writer Cecilie Milne who wrote as Barbara Gordon/ Sarah Maitland and a proof copy and notes of a novel Freighter by Susan Yorke.

Emily Pankhurst illumination

Emmeline Pankhurst illumination

The size of the collection varies from just one tiny file such as a letter dated 1916 from Annie Golding (1855-1934), teacher, suffragist, NSW Secretary of the Women’s Progressive Association 1901 and President 1904, to extensive collections such as the papers from political activist, feminist, nurse, photographer Helen Leonard (1945-2001). There are 13,000 photographs documenting 30 years of the women’s movement.Much of the collection does not fit within a conventional archival collection policy. In 2005, State Records of NSW donated to the archives a small collection of papers which belonged to cookery teacher, Emily Winifred Nell. These papers date back to 1910 and clearly illustrate how the patterns of women’s lives have changed over the past 100 years. The Library holds material from academic sources that cannot find a home in a university. Academics such as Dr Heather Radi, Dr Patricia Ranald, Dr Robin Porter, Dr Jane Innes, Dr Sybil Jack and TAFE principal, Wilga Pruden, have deposited their papers with the Archives. Interesting small collections have been donated by the sons of deceased feminists. These include the papers of Violet Patrick, Patricia Carey and Pam Ledden (Older Women’s Network).

Photographer Elaine Norling donated 11 poster-sized framed photographic collections which document Australian women’s activities at the UN Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995. The archives also hold another exhibition entitled ‘Significant Women’ that includes photographs with short biographies of significant women in Australian history compiled by Elaine Norling, with documentation by Audrey Green, a Library volunteer. The Library’s Pine Gap photographic collection is a series of 35 story boards which illustrate activities at the women’s peace camp and protests at Pine Gap in the Northern Territory in 1983.

Using the Archives Collection

Prior arrangements are required for the use of the archives. Please contact the Archivist directly by telephone or email

archives@nationalwomenslibrary.org