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Author photo. Passport photograph of Jessie Lillingston, 1915. (National Library of Australia, NLA 2683/11/6)

Passport photograph of Jessie Lillingston, 1915. (National Library of Australia, NLA 2683/11/6)

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Jessie Street, née Lillingston, was born in India, the daughter of a British civil servant and his wife. The family moved to Australia in 1896, when Jessie's mother inherited a family ranch near Grafton in New South Wales. Jessie was educated by a governess before being sent to Wycombe Abbey School in England. She returned to Australia to enroll at the University of Sydney, where she earned a B.A. in 1911. She was a founding member and later president of the Sydney University Women's Sports Association. In 1916, she married Kenneth Street, a lawyer who later became chief justice and lieutenant-governor of New South Wales, with whom she had four children. She invited several smaller groups to united with the Feminist Club to form the United Associations of Women, which she served as president on and off for 20 years. Jessie Street's special cause was women's right to economic independence and equal pay. In 1933, she was involved in setting up the first contraceptive clinic in Sydney.
After visiting Europe during the Nazi era, she became an advocate for the removal of restrictions on Jewish refugee immigration to Australia. She joined the Australian Labour Party and ran unsuccessfully for national office several times. After World War II, she toured devastated Europe, the Soviet Union, and Japan, and became a pacifist and advocate for a ban on nuclear weapons. She travelled to peace conferences around the world and reported for various Australian publications. She also met with Australian Aboriginal leaders and worked to overcome discrimination. Her husband was knighted in 1956, making her Lady Street. She published her memoirs as Truth or Repose (1966). The Jessie Street National Women’s Library, dedicated to the preservation of Australian women’s work, words and history, is named in her honor.
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