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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ahern, Elizabeth (Lizzie) (1877–1969)

by Geoff Hewitt

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Elizabeth Ahern (1877-1969), socialist propagandist, usually known as Lizzie, was born on 19 October 1877 at Ballarat, Victoria, daughter of Edmund Ahern, miner, and his wife Eliza, née Kiely, both from Ireland. Lizzie moved to Melbourne as a domestic servant and joined the Abbotsford branch of the Political Labor Council about 1904.

She began her propagandist career with the Social Questions Committee, soon renamed the Victorian Socialist Party, in 1905, advocating unemployment relief. Lizzie was an enthusiastic speaker on street corners and the Yarra Bank and in rural areas. In November 1906 she was arrested and gaoled for ten days for obstruction during the Prahran free-speech fight, after which she visited Broken Hill, New South Wales. Energetic, courageous and determined to the point of stubbornness, she continued her activity in country and suburban areas; a champion of women's rights and a strong internationalist, she became one of the party's most effective propagandists.

Lizzie was a member of the Victorian Socialist Party's executive committee in 1906-08, 1910 and 1917-18; in 1906-07 she was a vice-president. Supporting the party's permeation tactics, she was a delegate to the Political Labor Council's annual conference in 1907 and helped to form the Domestic Workers' Union. She resigned from the P.L.C. late in 1907 in accordance with Socialist Federation of Australia policy.

In October 1908 Lizzie left for Broken Hill. On 10 December, giving her occupation as 'socialist agitator', she married ARTHUR KNIGHT WALLACE (1879-1952) of the Barrier Socialist Propaganda Group in a socialist wedding; Tom Mann was a witness. The couple remained there, with Lizzie an active speaker for the Barrier group, until Wallace was appointed assistant secretary of the V.S.P. in February 1909. The Wallaces supported close relations between the Socialist and Labor parties. Lizzie helped to form the Women's Socialist League in 1909 and Wallace was delegate to the Socialist Federation in 1910. Late that year they moved to Adelaide, where they were active in the Socialist Party of South Australia, and several years later went back to Broken Hill.

In May 1916 they returned to Melbourne, rejoining the V.S.P. and the Labor Party. Both spoke vigorously against war and conscription in 1916 and 1917. In 1916 Lizzie became Caterers' Employees' Union delegate to the Trades Hall Council, secretary of the Women's Anti-Conscription Committee, and delegate to the Labor Women's Central Organizing Committee.

Wallace was the V.S.P.'s financial secretary in 1917-18, publisher-manager of its children's newsletter, Dawn, and secretary of the Socialist Co-operative Society during 1919 until his election in November as Labor member for Albert Park in the Legislative Assembly. His parliamentary career was undistinguished; defeated in 1927, he was re-elected in 1929 but, suffering from high blood-pressure, he resigned in 1932 shortly after being appointed to the Geelong Harbor Trust. He was a member of the South Melbourne council in 1929-37 and mayor in 1934. For many years he and his wife ran a small library in Albert Park.

Lizzie remained active with the Labor Women's Central Organizing Committee until 1934, and was a delegate to the first interstate conference of Labor women in 1929 and secretary to its executive in 1930. She maintained membership of the party's Albert Park branch until her death on 7 April 1969. Buried in Brighton cemetery, she was survived by a daughter; a son had predeceased both parents.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Dale, The Industrial History of Broken Hill (Melb, 1918)
  • Socialist (Melbourne), 3, 10 Nov 1906, 11, 18 Dec 1908, 25 Mar, 14 Oct 1910, 7 Apr, 11 Aug, 22 Sept 1916, 27 Apr 1917
  • Victorian Socialist Party minutes, 1906-10, 1916-19 (Merrifield collection, State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Geoff Hewitt, 'Ahern, Elizabeth (Lizzie) (1877–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 22 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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