Guide to the Papers of Beryl Henderson


MS 9360

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

Beryl Henderson
Papers of Beryl Henderson
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 9360
0.6 metres (4 boxes)
Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

They consist mainly of personal correspondence between Beryl Henderson and Edna Ryan over a period of thirteen years (1977-90). Edna Ryan had kept Henderson's letters and also a carbon copy of her response to each letter. She had also preserved other material including correspondence with others and newscuttings relating to the translation of Abortion: the Bobigny affair from the French. Edna Ryan acted as agent for Beryl Henderson in negotiations with the publisher, Wild and Woolley, and also assisted in fundraising activities to enable the book to be published in Australia.

The main correspondents are Beryl Henderson, Edna Ryan and Florence Robinson.

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Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions.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 Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.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 Beryl Henderson, National Library of Australia, MS 9360, [box number and series and/or file number]'.


The papers were received by the Library in two consignments in 1993. They were once part of the collection of the Women's Studies Unit at the Australian National University. They were forwarded to the Library with papers belonging to Edna Ryan which had also been part of the Women's Archive.

Other papers originally part of the Women's Archive and now held by the National Library include those of Edna Ryan (MS 9140), Julia Ryan (MS 9361), and Thelma Hunter (MS 9353).


The papers form an artificial series put together by Edna Ryan.

The collection was arranged in envelopes and files when received by the Library. The file and envelope titles and arrangement of the material within them have been preserved by the Library. However, the Library has arranged the collection into two series.

Biographical Note

Beryl Henderson was born in Lincoln, England, in January 1897 and died in Jerusalem, Israel in December 1990, a month before her 94th birthday.

Although she gained entry to university, the economic circumstances in her family did not permit her to attend. She won a scholarship to the Diocesan Training College, Lincoln, and became a primary school teacher.

Early in life, Henderson became interested in political and social issues, associating with Fabian Society members and the Pankhurst family. She belonged to that generation of British women whose fianc├ęs were killed in World War I and who never married. A feminist activist, Beryl became a councillor on the Extra Metropolitan London Borough Council, 1929-32, a member of the first Committee of the Abortion Law Reform Association in England in 1936 and a member of the Progressive League.

Henderson left England to teach languages in an Israeli Kibbutz in 1960-64. Answering an advertisement in an English newspaper, she then came to Victoria as a housekeeper in 1965. She visited Canberra on holiday and decided to make it her home. Renting a room in Ainslie she started her first job in Canberra, undertaking housecleaning and general domestic work.

Beryl Henderson found employment in Canberra Hospital in 1969, teaching English to migrants. She taught classes in 1969-73, forming many friendships in the migrant community. Volunteers from Women's Liberation helped by minding the children to enable migrant mothers to attend classes.

Henderson was responsible for setting up the Abortion Law Reform Association in Canberra. She also became active in the Family Planning Association (Life Membership in 1979) and the Humanist Society. As an active member of Canberra Women's Liberation, Henderson performed the official opening of the first Women's Refuge in Canberra (1975), now named after her.

In 1974 Henderson translated from the French the book on the Bobigny Trial in France, Abortion: the Bobigny affair: law on trial, which was published by Wild and Woolley, Sydney 1975. Gisele Halimi, the French Arab lawyer who conducted the defence in the famous trial and wrote the book, expressed her great satisfaction with the standard of Henderson's translation when she launched it in Sydney during International Women's Year, 1975. The Women's Movement in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra contributed to the cost of the publication.

At the end of the 1970s Henderson returned to Israel. Soon after her ninetieth birthday, at the suggestion of her friend's in Australia, she agreed to set up the Foundation in her name. The Beryl Henderson Foundation was established in May 1987 by eight of her friends. It offers an annual prize for an essay of no more than 5000 words on a topic relevant to women's studies or to the status of women. Eligible entrants must be enrolled in an undergraduate course in a post-secondary public education institution in Australia in the year preceding submission. The inaugural prize was presented in 1998.

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Correspondence, 1977-90

This series consists of letters, newscuttings, postcards and photographs. The letters were written by Beryl Henderson to her close friend, Edna Ryan over a period of thirteen years on her return to Israel in the late 1970s. Edna Ryan had kept Henderson's letters and in most cases stapled a carbon copy of her response to each letter. The letters discuss many topics including family and friends, gardening, literature, politics in Australia and Israel and the continuing involvement of both women with women's issues. As her health deteriorated Beryl Henderson was unable to write her own letters anymore. Most of the 1989-90 letters were dictated by Beryl and written by her close friend and carer, Nurit. There is also a file of letters written by Henderson to another close friend, Florence Robinson, and a file of correspondence belonging to Edna Ryan.

Correspondence with Edna Ryan, 1977-79. There are also five letters written by Edna Ryan relating to the Bonnie Women's Refuge in Cabramatta, New South Wales (File 1-2) - Box 1

Correspondence with Edna Ryan, 1980 (File 3) - Box 1

Correspondence with Edna Ryan, 1980-83. There is also correspondence (8 letters) between Edna Ryan and Pat Woolley of Wild and Woolley relating to the purchase of the remaindered stock of Abortion: the Bobigny Affair by the Womens' Electoral Lobby (WEL) (File 4-5) - Box 1

Correspondence with Edna Ryan, 1984-85 (File 6) - Box 1

Correspondence with Edna Ryan, 1986-87 (File 7-8) - Box 1, 2

Correspondence with Edna Ryan, 1986-89 (File 9-10) - Box 2

Correspondence with Edna Ryan, 1990 (File 11) - Box 2

Correspondence, 1981-86, between Beryl Henderson and Florence Robinson. (The 10 letters were forwarded to Edna Ryan by Florence Robinson in 1993) (File 12) - Box 2

Correspondence, 1979-80, belonging to Edna Ryan. It consists mainly of in and out letters generated by her on personal matters and women's issues (File 13-14) - Box 2

Series 2. Other Papers, 1970-92

This series consists mainly of material relating to the Bobigny Trial, a famous abortion case in France in 1972. The book Abortion : the Bobigny affair: a law on trial was translated into English by Beryl Henderson and published by Wild and Woolley in Sydney in 1975. There is a folder of material relating to the publication of this work. Another folder contains material relating to the establishment of the Beryl Henderson Foundation. There are also photocopies of four bibliographies relating to women's studies.

Correspondence, 1975, relating to the publication of Abortion: the Bobigny affair. The main correspondents are Beryl Henderson, Edna Ryan and Pat Woolley. Edna Ryan undertook most of the negotiations with the publishers on behalf of Beryl Henderson and established an appeal to raise funds for the publication of the book. There is also a ledger containing contributions to the publishing fund, letters seeking donations and newscuttings of book reviews (File 1-3) - Box 3

Two copies of Abortion: the Bobigny affair. One copy contains the signatures of Gisele Halimi, Edna Ryan and Beryl Henderson. A second copy has been signed by Beryl Henderson (File 4) - Box 3

Newscuttings from French newspapers relating to abortion issues, 1974 (File 5) - Box 3

Newscuttings from English and French newspapers relating to abortion issues, 1973-78 (File 6) - Box 3

Correspondence, 1988-92, relating to the establishment of the Beryl Henderson Foundation, agenda and minutes of meetings, a brochure about the Foundation, photocopies of an obituary notice from the Canberra Times, December 1990, and transcripts of messages read at a memorial gathering held in Canberra, 22 December 1990 (File 7-9) - Box 4

Female studies 1-IV: photocopies of four publications listing bibliographies and syllabi on women's studies. The first volume was produced by Sheila Tobias in 1970. It lists courses taught in various American colleges and universities on women's studies. The other three volumes (1970-71) by various authors were produced for the Modern Language Association on the Status of Women which also began to operate as a clearing house for information on new curricular developments in feminist studies (File 10-11) - Box 4