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Memento : Issue 26
The Uncommon Lives website brings together Jessie Street’s proposals to government on national insurance, law reform, social services, equal pay, immigration, Indigenous rights and foreign policy. There are also intriguing glimpses into the women’s organisations to which she belonged, which were infiltrated by ASIO agents. In some cases the agents’ meticulous transcriptions now provide the only record of these meetings. Together with departmental records about these organisations, the files reveal the extent of women’s participation in political reform, postwar reconstruction, and social services in the decades preceding the ‘second wave’ of feminist activity that began in the 1960s. The detective trail takes us behind the scenes – into the minister’s office after the deputation had left, and the cipher office where secret cablegrams were decoded – to show us how government reacted behind closed doors and in confidential files. Each life added to the Uncommon Lives series brings newly digitised records online. Jessie Street’s story involved the digitisation of items from more than 50 series, created by 12 different departments and 5 prime ministers, resulting in an extraordinary online archive of her nearly 40 years of active citizenship. To discover more, visit the website at uncommonlives.naa.gov.au. Explore records online (top left) The passport photograph of Jessie Street – then Jessie Lillingston – taken in 1915, when she made three voyages between England and the USA, despite the toll on allied shipping from German torpedoes patrolling the Atlantic Ocean. National Library of Australia MS2683/11 (centre) The ‘sheepskins for Russia’ campaign was Australia’s major aid program for the USSR, established in the months after German troops invaded the country in June 1941. For the next three years, Jessie Street travelled throughout Australia promoting the campaign, raising funds, selecting skins and arranging their shipping to Soviet ports. National Library of Australia MS2683/11 (top right) Jessie Street (at front, second from right) outside the Palais des Nations, the new headquarters of the League of Nations in Geneva, September 1938. Other representatives of international women’s organisations include English feminists Betty Archdale (back row, far right) and her mother Helen Archdale (back row, left, without hat), and prominent USA campaigner Alice Paul (front, left). National Library of Australia MS2683/11 (right) Jessie Street’s application for a passport to attend the founding conference of the United Nations held in San Francisco, 1945. NAA: A6980, S202852 (portion)