In her article earlier this week on Secondary Sources for early Australian women writers, Sue from Whispering Gums mentioned what a treasure of a resource is Trove. It’s a “meta”-resource, containing within it many other secondary sources on Australian women’s writing. Today’s piece from the archives is an extract from a report on a lecture by Marie Pitt on gender bias – which she calls “sex-prejudice” – in Australian publishing and criticism. The report begins with a handy list of early Australian women poets and prose writers.

From “Editorial Notes”: on a lecture by Marie Pitt reported in Birth: a little journal of Australian poetry (May 1919: 5-7)

At the March Club meeting, Mrs. Marie E J Pitt summarised interestingly and sympathetically Australasian women’s poetic output, with comment on and quotation from the following: “Alpha Crucis” (1882), Emma Frances Anderson (1869), Mrs. Watkins (N.Z.), “Australie”, Jennings Carmichael, Ethel Castiall, Alice Werner, Nellie S. Clerk, “Lindsay Duncan”, Frances Tyrell Gill, Caroline Leakey, Frances Sesca Lewin, Annie Patchett Martin, Caroline Agnes Neal, Eleanor Elizabeth Montgomery (N.Z.), Ada Cambridge, Mary Colborne Veel (N. Z.), Marion Miller Knowles, Joan Torrance, Dora Wilcox, Ethel Turner, Dorothy Frances McCrae, Dorothea Mackellar, Jessie Mackay, Louise Mack, Mary Gilmore, Mary E Fullerton, Mabel Forrest, Mary Hannay Foot, Lala Fisher, Enid Derham, Nettie Palmer, “Sydney Partridge”, Blanche Edith Baughan, Zora Cross, Elsie Cole, Nora McAuliffe, Margery Ruth Betts, B. Cecil Doyle, Mrs. McDonald.

Novelists and Prose-writers: Mrs Humphrey War, Ethel Turner, Mary Grant Bruce, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Mrs. Aeneas Gunn, “Miles Franklin,” Sumner Locke, Mary Forrest, Barbara Baynton, “G. B. Lancaster”, Beatrice Grimshaw, Marie Bjelke Petersen, “Tarella” Quin, Mrs Taylor Hain, Eleanor Mordaunt, Lilian M Pike, Mrs Agnes Benham, Mary E Fullerton.

She drew pointed attention to the poverty and conventional flapdoodleism of the earlier coveys, as contrasted with the originality, technique, and frequently high poetic achievement of many recent writers. Characteristically, she contended that the habit some critics have of mentioning, in their accounts of Australasian poetry, the six or seven best men writers, and ignoring the existence of Jessie Mackay, Edith Baughan, Louise Mack, Lala Fisher, Mary Gilmore, Enid Derham and Dorothea Mackellar, except when personal friendship or social or racial reasons sway, means either inexcusable ignorance in the critics, or that they are victims to “sex-prejudice.”

This feature of the address divided the meeting into lively belligerent groups, the feminist chairman, with difficulty, sitting on the rail. We agree in the main with Mrs. Pitt, except that we would add, without hesitation, her own name, high up in the list, and are rather more inclined to put the omissions, so painfully frequent, down to ignorance in most cases. Outside a small circle, Australian poetry – of the kind that is entitled to that high name – is utterly unknown to Australians. Universities do not encourage its study, and the needs of primary and secondary schools are catered for by such hopelessly incompetent or ludicrously shackled compliers that only the thinnest murmurs of the splendid work being done reach the ears of the pupils. Moreover, the “literary” side of the press, the only source of knowledge in the matter to the vast majority, is usually in the hands of people wedded to obsolescent or obsolete tradition: people whose long ears stretch across to London for the bell-wether signal before anything can be well done here; people who adjudge merit or defect according to the political or religious beliefs of the writers; people who use their columns to gratify private grudges, or to further the interests of private friends, or to queer the pitches of possible or actual rivals, or on the mere scratch-back principle of a favourable review of a pot-boiler in return for an anticipated favourable review of the critic’s next pot-boiler; or people who are turned on to the “literary” column when there is a slack half-day on shipping reports or at the police courts. Still, sex-prejudice operates so largely in the business and professional world to-day, notwithstanding asserverations to the contrary, and is, moreover, a profitable blindness of such immemorial standing, that it has probably something to do with the extraordinary neglect of the splendid work of Australian women in poetry of the higher type. Comment was made through the evening on the very unfair deal which women received at the hands of Louis Esson and Archibald Strong in their reviews of the Oxford Book of Australasian verse. This book, selected by the ablest and most cultured living critic of Australasian poetry, Professor Walter Murdoch, of the Perth University, contained, it was pointed out, a very large selection of Marie Pitt’s poetry, including a Ballade, which Mr. Strong had previously called attention to as the finest in Australian poetry, yet neither Mr. Esson, in his “Observer” article, not Mr. Strong, in his review of the Oxford Book mentioned her work at all, and the references of both to women’s work were singularly scanty. One is so used to unfair ignorings of good work in Australian criticism, that the writer has to learn to pursue his or her course independently of praise, blame or suppression, but, none the less, recognition of good work is such an encouragement to do better, that decent Australasian critics should men their ways and give a fair deal to the good purveyors, whether men or women, of the only food of the gods obtainable nowadays, good art and good poetry.


Editorial Notes“, Birth: a little journal of Australian poetry (May 1919: 5-7) – link to Trove