Louie Cullen—part two

Louie Cullen—part two
Life in Australia
24 June 2016

Most commonly known as Louie, Louisa Cullen was a very active member of the suffragette movement. In my previous blog, a life forgotten, I traced her life in England up until she and her husband immigrated to Australia, after her suffragette activities and activism had damaged her health.

In part two of this series I take a look at her passionate work in Australia, and reveal one of the rare and historical treasures she left behind.

Newspaper article with photo of Louie Cullen and the words, ‘Mrs. L. C. Cullen, who served six weeks’ goal in Holloway (England) in 1908 for participating in the “storming of the House of Commons,” was another who addressed members at the Sydney branch of the Suffragette Fellowship yesterday’

Article from The Mirror, 14 October 1947, Papers of Bessie Rischbieth MS 2004/3/303A, nla.obj-250831564

Unveiling a life

Once Louie arrived in Australia, I could trace her life up until 1954 through Trove’s digitised newspapers.

It became obvious that Louie’s radical activities and work to promote the health and wellbeing of women and girls did not end with emigration to Australia.  

In the earliest articles available on Trove, dating from 1914, possibly trading on her notoriety as an ex-prisoner, she addressed a meeting of the Women’s Political Association in Melbourne calling herself a ‘militant suffragette’. The meeting was presided over by Vida Goldstein. The debate Louie's speech created, filled as it was with statements such as ‘Women do the scullery work of the world, unorganised and unpaid’, can only be imagined. 

As her activities in England showed, Louie wasn’t content with just talking, she also acted on her convictions. In 1917 she actively helped establish and became president of a social club in Melbourne called the Wayfarers which ‘originated... with the idea of finding companionship and healthy amusement for lonely girls, and particularly those who were away from home and missed the home atmosphere.’ (Graphic of Australia, 31 August 1917, p. 27).  This could be Louie talking about her own arrival in Australia.

Having been a prisoner herself, she was active in the cause to release Adela Walsh, imprisoned in 1917 after leading a demonstration in Melbourne against the high price of food. With others, she marched on Parliament in Melbourne to present a petition to the Prime Minister, W. M Hughes.  

Around 1930, Louie and Joshua moved from Melbourne to Sydney where she became an active member of the Suffragette Fellowship. Attending one of their meetings she was described in the Sydney Morning Herald as an ‘original suffragette’.

 The guest of honour Miss Mayo, Mrs L.C Cullen, Mrs Jessie Street, Mrs Lillie Beirne, and Miss B G McLellan.

Louie did not just confine herself to national and international events such as fundraising for the Spanish Relief. She also encouraged women at a local level to get involved as evidenced by the letter of congratulations she sent to Mrs N. A. Parker, elected as the first woman alderman to Molong Municipal Council:

I wish more women would offer themselves for Local Government work.

Continuing to promote women’s equality at all levels, Louie protested against the inclusion of the word ‘obey’ in the marriage service for Princess Elizabeth in 1947, describing it as ‘positively antideluvian’. Her comments were reported coast to coast in both the West Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald.

In 1953 Louie was interviewed by Ida Elizabeth Jenkins, pioneering radio host, for the ABC’s Women’s Session to ‘celebrate the granting of franchise to Australian women 50 years ago’. In the promotional article Louie refers proudly to a memento of her time in prison.

 As a memento, Mrs. Cullen still treasures a small, but Fix this textbeautifully designed badge, designed by Christabel Pank- hurst and presented by her to all women who went to gaol for "the cause." It shows prison bars in iron, with the colours of the Women's Social and Political Union in enamel in the form of a broad arrow!

This badge is held in a small box in the collection of Bessie Rischbieth, pioneering feminist and a founder of the Australian Federation of Women's Societies (later Voters), in the National Library. A powerful object in itself, it is made poignant by the inscription in what appears to be Louie’s own hand, ‘Louie C Cullen, Holloway, 6 weeks, Feb to March 1908’. 

Louisa Cullen's Holloway Prison Brooch  1908, Papers of Bessie Rischbieth, Series 3, MS 2004/3/276-312, nla.obj-250831564

Sadly for Louie, shortly after this interview in 1956, the man whom she described as being with her all the way in her activities, and whom she credits for influencing her to initially join the movement, her husband Joshua, died aged 88.  

It is at this point that Trove becomes less useful in researching Louie’s life, with digitised newspaper coverage largely ceasing in 1954. So where to from here? How to answer the question raised by one of the Library’s staff members after looking at early information on Louie’s life, ‘I wonder what happened to her?’

In the third and final part of this series I will endeavour to answer this question.

Our women's suffrage appeal

Help uncover more stories like Louie's by contributing to our women's suffrage appeal. All funds raised will go towards preserving, digitising and improving access to our collection of women's suffrage material. Donate online, or phone the Development Office on 02 6262 1336 for more information. All donations over $2 are tax-deductable.