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Bessie Guthrie, photo taken some time between 1939 and 1943, ABC National Radio image
Bessie Guthrie, photo taken some time between 1939 and 1943, ABC National Radio image

Bessie Guthrie (nee Mitchell) was trained in Design and worked professionally in various design fields from the late 1920s until about 1950. She established Viking Press in 1939. Throughout her life she was a crusader for children’s rights and against the institutional abuse of women. She welcomed the Women’s Liberation movement, and was active in the establishment of Elsie Women’s Night Shelter, the first women’s refuge in Australia.

Glebe connections

Bessie Guthrie (nee Mitchell) lived all her life in Glebe, at 97 Derwent Street. She was raised by her two aunts, Janet Forbes Mackenzie Mitchell and Margaret Crichton Mitchell, fiercely independent schoolteachers who were influenced by the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft. In 1950 she married painter Clive Guthrie. Clive died after a long illness in 1971.

Guthrie’s championing of the rights of children and women led her to open her home to many victims of domestic violence and neglect. She was particularly concerned about conditions at Bidura, 357 Glebe Point Road, which was used as a ‘receiving home’ for children (mainly girls) waiting placement in foster homes from 1920 to 1977. She did extensive research of the network of Children’s Courts, church and state homes and the child welfare system generally, and led protests and gained publicity that gradually led to change.

The story is often told of Guthrie walking into the political home of Women’s Liberation, 67 Glebe Point Road, and declaring “I’ve been waiting for you women to get here all my life.” Guthrie developed a close relationship with the mostly young women there, and worked on the newspaper Mejane.

97 Derwent St, home of Bessie Guthrie

In 1974 Guthrie, together with Anne Summers, Jennifer Dakers and others of the Women’s Liberation Movement squatted in two vacant houses, 73 and 75 Westmoreland Street to found Elsie Women’s Refuge Night Shelter. The first women’s refuge in Australia, it shifted to 108 Derwent Street in 1975 before moving to its current address.

More information

Australian Dictionary of Biography  
Glebe Walks – 97 Derwent Street

Posted on April 6, 2013 by Peter

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