Guide to the Papers of Bessie Rischbieth

MS 2004

National Library of Australia

Collection Summary

Papers of Bessie Rischbieth
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 2004
7.62 metres (37 archive boxes + 2 medium folio boxes + 3 large folio boxes + 2 medium phase boxes + 2 outsized phase boxes + 1 map folio)
Language of Materials
The National Library of Australia is extremely grateful for the generous support of the public to its 2016 Tax Time Appeal which raised the money that has enabled the work of preserving, digitising and describing this collection.


Scope and Contents

Bessie Rischbieth was involved in women's rights movements from the beginning of the century, at local, national and international levels, and her papers record her involvement in many organizations, especially the Australian Federation of Women Voters, and with many different subjects up to her death in 1967. Of special interest is the collection of material on the women's suffrage movement in Great Britain between 1906 and 1928. The collection contains correspondence, reports and minutes of meetings, some photographs, newspaper cuttings and pamphlets. The different series relate to organisations and subjects, and the correspondence is to be found at the beginning of most series.

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Bessie Rischbieth, National Library of Australia, MS 2004, [series/item number]'.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bessie Rischbieth bequeathed to the National Library her collection of papers and books in so far as they related to the 'national, empire and/or international development of the modern women's movements', while papers of personal and local interest were bequeathed to the State Library of Western Australia. The papers were received in November 1967, and were augmented by the records of the Australian Federation of Women Voters in 1970.

Other Finding Aids

All correspondence in the collection has been name-indexed; please refer to the attached Correspondence Index (Appendix I) under the Related Documentation tab.

Biographical Note

Bessie Rischbieth was born in Adelaide in 1875. In 1899 she married Henry Rischbieth and moved to Perth where she lived until her death. She became involved in local welfare work, and in 1909 helped form the Woman's Service Guilds of Western Australia. This society affiliated with other State bodies in 1921 to form the Australian Federation of Women Voters with which Mrs Rischbieth had a very close association all her life, being president and editor of its newspaper The Dawn. In 1923 she attended her first international women's conference in Rome and subsequently was present at many such gatherings. Her husband died in 1925 and she fortunately had the means to frequently travel overseas. Bessie Rischbieth's dominant interest was always to secure legal and economic equality for women, and to this end she succeeded in having a Women's Legal Status Act passed by the Western Australia Parliament in 1919, enabling women to stand for Parliament. She was called on to give evidence at a number of Royal Commissions, and was active as an Honorary Magistrate in children's court work and as a Justice of the Peace. In 1935 she was appointed by the Australian Government as delegate to the League of Nations, and in 1935 received an O.B.E for her services to women and children. She continued to be actively involved in political and social issues until her death in 1967. When bequeathing her papers to the National Library, Mrs Rischbieth wrote: 'It is my wish that they form the nucleus of a permanent history of the British Women's struggle for enfranchisement and citizen rights'. The Library has fortunately been able to carry out this objective, as in recent years it has acquired a number of collections which complement the Rischbieth Papers.

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Family and personal correspondence Show allonly 1

The letters, written between 1911 and 1959, are arranged chronologically. They are mostly written by Bessie Rischbieth to her family whilst she was travelling, and include a large number of letters written from London during the Second World War. Comprises Items 1-195.


Previously unnumbered items have been retained within original files and assigned a new running number with an "A" prefix. The additional numbering restarts at 1 (e.g. "A1) in each series where it has been used.

File 1. Family and personal correspondence, 1911-1913 - Box 1 Show all (71) Show allonly 1

Correspondents include Olive Evans and Anna Donnelly. Covers travels to Japan in 1911 and observations of the militant suffrage movement while staying in the United Kingdom in 1913. Comprises items 1-12.

Show all (71)

File 2. Family and personal correspondence, 1923-1933 - Box 1 Show all (144) Show allonly 1

Correspondents include Olive Evans, Elsie Morgan, Julia Rapke, Ethel Osborne, and A. May Moss. Correspondence is primarily with her sister Olive Evans, covering topics including her travels to the United Kingdom, Hawaii, India, Palestine, Egypt. Includes experiences of touring schools and work sites that informed her social activism, and observations at conferences. Also includes copy of an article submission, and a card from Princesse Alexandrine Gr. Cantacuzene. Comprises items 13-41.

Show all (144)

File 3. Family and personal correspondence, 1935-1938 - Box 1 Show all (201) Show allonly 1

Correspondence primarily with her family covering her travels as a League of Nations delegate and to the 1935 I.W.S.A. Congresses. Other correspondents include M. Jamison Williams, Kerstin Hesselgren, Ethel P., Mary Hughes. Comprises items 42-80.

Show all (201)

File 4. Family and personal correspondence, 1939-1940 - Box 1 Show all (110) Show allonly 1

Correspondence with her family while travelling in South Africa, Europe and the United Kingdom. Comprises items 81-107.

Show all (110)

File 5. Correspondence to her family, 1940 - Box 1 Show all (134) Show allonly 1

Correspondence to her family while living in the United Kingdom. Includes experiences of London air-raids. Comprises items 108-135.

Show all (134)

File 6. Correspondence to her family, 1941-1946 - Box 1 Show all (182) Show allonly 1

Correspondence to her family while living in the United Kingdom. Includes experiences of London air-raids and the progress of World War II. Comprises items 136-176.

Show all (182)

File 7. Personal correspondence with members of women's organisations, 1946-1959 - Box 1 Show all (48) Show allonly 1

Correspondents include Katherine Bompas, Evelyn Rowland, Amy Wheaton, Stella Newsome, Harold White, Janet Roberts, Jessie Groom, Gertrude Ruston, and Molly Lukis. Topics include alliances between women's organisations, the production of The Dawn newspaper, and correspondence with various suffrage activists seeking material for an archive/exhibit on the international women's suffrage movement. Comprises items 177-184, A1-A5.

Show all (48)

File 8. Dated and undated correspondence with family and miscellaneous pages of letters, 1930-1950 - Box 1 Show all (25) Show allonly 1

Comprises items 185-195.

Show all (25)

Series 2. Diaries, notes, articles and broadcasts Show allonly 1

The series contains diaries for 1927, 1946 and 1957 written while travelling; notes for articles together with copies of articles and broadcasts given by Bessie Rischbieth between 1936 and 1950, and a number of invitations to official functions. Comprises Items 1-158.


Previously unnumbered items have been retained within original files and assigned a new running number with an "A" prefix. The additional numbering restarts at 1 (e.g. "A1) in each series where it has been used.

Duplicated item numbering on some items within this series has been resolved by adding a "B" prefix to second instance of item number to preserve original file order.

File 1. Notebooks as League of Nations delegate 1946; address books 1950s; - Box 1 Show all (52) Show allonly 1

Correspondence log kept by Bessie Rischbieth in 1927 as president of AFWV; correspondence log 1946; notebooks as a delegate to the United Nations 1946; address books 1950s. Comprises items 1-7.

Show all (52)

File 2. Travel notes and ephemera, 1931-1946 - Box 1 Show all (76) Show allonly 1

Notebooks and travel ephemera including tags, postcards and programs. Comprises items 8-16.

Show all (76)

File 3. Notes for articles - Box 2 Show all (103) Show allonly 1

Notes for articles and prompt cards for speeches. Content is primarily focussed on global politics during the operation of the League of Nations. Comprises items 17-43, A1.

Show all (103)

File 4. Dossier - Box 2 Show all (7) Show allonly 1

Curricula vitae and profiles for Bessie Rischbieth. Comprises items A2-A6.

Show all (7)

File 5. Articles, 1936-1950 - Box 2 Show all (182) Show allonly 1

Copies of article submissions to various publications. Comprises items 44-57.