Date of Award
Master of Arts
School of Communications and Arts
Education and Arts
Dr Ffion Murphy
Dr Leigh Straw
This thesis comprises an organisational history of the War Widow' Guild Australia WA Inc., and an essay about the research and writing process I undertook to construct such a history. The history outlines the development, struggles and achievements of the War Widows’ Guild in Western Australia from 1946 to 1975. While many were celebrating the end of the war in 1945, thousands of war widows faced an uncertain future without their husbands. Although Prime Minister John Curtin addressed the issue of war widows' pensions as part of his Post War Reconstruction initiatives, the pension was well below the basic wage. Many war widows, especially those with small children to support, now lived in near poverty. It was under these circumstances, that Mrs Jessie Mary Vasey, the widow of Major-General George Alan Vasey, established the War Widows' Craft Guild, first in Victoria in November 1945, and then in other states. In Western Australia, the Guild held its first meeting on 29 November 1946. During the early years, members undertook training in weaving and various crafts to supplement their meagre pensions. The Guild also opened tearooms on the Esplanade in Perth, as a form of income and as a central meeting place. For many war widows it was in meeting together that they found support from others who understood their own experiences of grief and loss. At a state and national level, the Guild became a powerful lobby group on behalf of all war widows influencing the government on issues such as accrued recreation leave, pensions, educational benefits and health care. Many of the pensions and benefits war widows receive today are largely due to the work of the early members of this organisation. These women fought for public recognition and expression of their loss. They fought to have war widows' pensions seen as compensation for their husband's lives rather a government handout. They persevered when the organisation faced hurdles, and fought for their rights at a time when men had the louder voices and determined the rules. The essay outlines the research and writing journey that has produced the history. It outlines the wide-ranging research I undertook for each narrative thread. This includes the writing of organisational histories; experiential research in the form of a trip to Gallipoli; archival sources such as newsletters, minutes, correspondence and photographs; contextual history such as war literature, Western Australian history and post-war history; and oral history. I describe some of the difficulties I encountered when searching for particular kinds of information. I also discuss some of the decisions underpinning the selection and shaping of information, particularly in relation to the war widows' stories and embedding an historical context, and some of the tensions at play in that process.
Tognini, Melinda, "A struggle for recognition : the War Widows' Guild in Western Australia 1946-1975 ; and, Exegesis : researching and writing an organisational history" (2012). Theses: Doctorates and Masters. Paper 486.