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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Aronson, Zara (1864–1944)

by Martha Rutledge

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

Zara Aronson (1864-1944), journalist and charity worker, was born on 4 September 1864 in Sydney, daughter of Moritz Baar, merchant of Hanover and London, and his wife Zillah, née Valentine. Taken to Europe at 3, she was educated at Bradford Girls Grammar School, Yorkshire, England, and at Weisbaden, Germany. She returned to Sydney in 1879 and attended Mrs Morell's school. At the Great Synagogue on 25 October 1882 she married a 32-year-old merchant Frederick Aronson (d.1928). They lived at Woollahra near her father, who now imported Indian and Chinese wares.

Known as Mrs Fred. Aronson, she became active in local charities and was a member of the committees of the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution and the Thirlmere and the Queen Victoria homes for consumptives. In the 1890s she turned to feminist activities and was an original member of the Women's Literary Society. A founder of the National Council of Women in 1896, she was its corresponding secretary in 1900-01 and honorary secretary in 1906-08. Encouraged to write by Lucy, wife of Henry Gullett, she contributed to the Australian Town and Country Journal and the Illustrated London News. In 1897-1901 as 'Thalia', she edited the women's pages in the Sydney Mail, and published XXth Century Cooking and Home Decoration (1900), which included some of her own recipes (not all kosher) and ideas for economic decorating.

By 1899 her husband had set up Frederick Aronson & Co., wholesale jewellers and importers. In 1901 she accompanied him when he took charge of the Melbourne branch of the firm. Back in Sydney, she edited the Home Queen in 1903-04 and wrote much of it herself, including the theatrical and fashion columns; the literary page was written by the wife of B. R. Wise. She told Miles Franklin that 'Country people are without a country womans paper of their own & this fact makes me almost sure of its ultimate success. I am not a bit afraid of the work you consider may be laborious—work never hurts me it is the worry that wears'. In the following years she edited the fashion pages in the Town and Country Journal and the Sunday Times (Sydney), and was Sydney correspondent of the Brisbane Telegraph. About 1912 Aronson set up a branch of his jewellery business in Perth and Zara joined the staff of the Western Mail. Described as a 'most capable journalist', she wrote directly on to her typewriter.

In Sydney again in 1914 she was an original member of the executive committee of the New South Wales division of the British Red Cross Society, and organized and ran the depot which distributed over a million books and magazines during World War I. She also raised some £500 for the Junior Red Cross by the proceeds of her Excel Cookery Book. In February 1925 she resigned from the Red Cross executive committee in protest against the society's funds being expended on other than ex-servicemen. During the visit of the United States Navy to Sydney in August she organized canteens for the sailors.

By 1918 Zara Aronson had started the Mary Elizabeth Tea Rooms in King Street which she ran until the 1930s; a by-product was her Mary Elizabeth Cook Book. In September 1925 she became foundation secretary of the Society of Women Writers of New South Wales and in 1930 its president; she was also a founder of the local branch of John O'London's Literary Circle. In 1930-37 as Zara Baar Aronson she contributed irregularly to the Sydney Morning Herald. Plump and handsome, she was a bright conversationalist and loved reading and house decoration. She was awarded the O.B.E. in 1936. Survived by a son and a daughter, she died at her house at Darling Point on 1 July 1944 and was buried in the Jewish section of Rookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Table Talk, 5 Oct 1901, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Oct 1919, 3 Feb 1925, 23 June 1936, 3 July 1944
  • Woman's World, 1 Oct, 1 Nov 1927
  • Hebrew Standard of Australasia, 6 July 1944
  • Miles Franklin papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Aronson, Zara (1864–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 29 October 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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