National Council of Women of Australia, Respectable Radicals
Respectable Radicals: 
A History of the National Council of Women of Australia 1896-2006

Authors Marian Quartly and Judith Smart
 with Professor Marilyn Lake
at the launch of the book on
11 October 2015 in Melbourne.
Photographer:  Pippa Wischer
More photos available on our NCWA Facebook site.

Respectable Radicals is in effect a history of mainstream feminism in Australia because the NCWA representing all the state NCsW, brought together women’s organisations of all kinds in discussion of, and lobbying about, issues relating to equality as well as matters connected to home and family. Only from the late 1970s did this broadly representative status come into question.

The book also describes the development of links between the Council movement in Australia and the International Council of Women (ICW) from the 1890s (pre dating the Federation of Australia) through to 2006, demonstrating the engagement of Australian women with local, national and international issues, and with both the League of Nations and the United Nations. Although ICW regional and international conferences were not held in Australia until the decades from the 1960s, it was only World War II that prevented the ICW conference being held in Australia in 1942. 

At the same time, the project has demonstrated that national women’s organisations in Australia has been limited by political differences, with labour movement and communist women largely absent from NCsW for most of their history, and divisions occurring over regional matters and between more overtly feminist groups and the Councils.

Respectable Radicals is the product of a genuinely national project. The records of over a century of activity by NCsW in every state and territory have been consulted, along with the records of the national body itself.

Interviews with more than thirty individuals were also conducted and transcribed, providing important evidence for the period from the 1970s. These interviews included former national presidents and other key figures in all states. The transcripts will eventually be lodged with the national organisation’s papers in the National Library of Australia.

The book indludes many photographs of NCWA members, officers and gatherings. These were sourced from collections in the National Library and National Archives as well as those held in private hands.

On behalf of the NCWA Board - thank you to all those who worked so hard to bring this book to publication.

The book can be purchased via the publisher’s website:

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