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henrietta_dugdale-australian-feminist-suffrageThis Saturday, March 8, marks International Women’s Day. I haven’t covered a name specifically for Women’s Day before, but thought it would be a good opportunity to look at one of Australia’s early feminists.

Henrietta Dugdale was originally from London, and arrived in Melbourne in the early 1850s, becoming a pioneer of the women’s movement in Victoria in 1869, after separating from her second husband. She formed the Victorian Suffrage Society in 1884, and became its president; this was the first Australian organisation to work towards voting equality for women. By this time, women could vote on Norfolk Island, and South Australia had brought in limited female suffrage.

(It should be remembered that male suffrage was only introduced during the 1850s, so women weren’t so far behind, although obviously they didn’t want to be behind at all).

Henrietta was confident, passionate and quick-witted in her quest for an equal society, and believed in the possibility of a Utopian future which could be achieved through the use of reason, and co-operation between the sexes. She fought for female suffrage as an essential step towards female emancipation, and bitterly spoke against the Victorian courts, and their failure to protect women from violent crimes. She noted that women’s anger was compounded by the fact that those who inflicted violence on women had a share in making the laws, while their victims did not.

Henrietta believed that women’s lives could be improved through gaining access to the professions, sensible clothing, birth control, and harsh penalties for sexual assault. She was a proponent of temperance, universal education, a more equal distribution of wealth, and the eight hour day as means towards improving the lives of the working class. A member of the Secular Association, she saw Christianity as an oppressive force in women’s lives, and also opposed monarchy and imperialism.

In her private life, she was a wife, and mother to three sons. She made her own clothes, grew her own vegetables, was a skilled carpenter, and an excellent chess player. She outlived three husbands and was over 90 when she died – a good advertisement for teetotalism and fresh vegetables!

Henrietta was recognised as a pioneer of female suffrage when the Commonwealth gave women the vote in 1902, shortly after Federation. Australia was the second country in the world to grant women equal voting rights, after New Zealand, in 1893; however we were the first in the world to allow women to stand for parliament. Henrietta’s own state of Victoria was the last to grant women the vote, in 1908.

When you look at modern Australian society, there must be much of which Henrietta Dugdale would approve. Women can vote, and be elected to power; they can enter the professions, have access to birth control, and don’t have to wear corsets. Presumably she would give the thumbs up to state school education, Dry July, Family Planning clinics, the fall of the Empire, and the rise of secularism.

However, the fight against violence towards women still has a long way to go. 57% of Australian women have experienced physical or sexual violence. One in three will suffer violence in an intimate relationship. The incidence of sexual violence against women in this country is more than double the global average. In Victoria, domestic violence is the leading contributor of death, injury and illness amongst women aged 15-44. Almost every week, a woman will die at the hands of her spouse or partner.

The Dugdale Trust for Women & Girls in Victoria was set up last year to to reduce violence against women and girls, with women and men working to address the root causes of violence. It is proudly named in honour of Henrietta Dugdale, and I am sure she would applaud this initiative.

Henrietta is a feminine form of the Germanic Henry. Although a traditional name amongst European royalty, the name only became widely used in England after the marriage of Charles I to Henriette-Marie of France, the youngest sister of the future King Louis XIII. In England, her name was Anglicised to Henrietta Maria; the king called her Maria, and the English public thought of her as Queen Mary.

Henriette-Marie wasn’t a popular queen, due to her Frenchness, which included staunch Catholicism, and failure to learn English very well. Nonetheless her name made an impact, and she bestowed it on her daughter Princess Henrietta of England, who married the son of Louis XIII, Phillipe I, Duke of Orleans. Unlike her mother, Henrietta seemed popular in her adopted country, although she died young, possibly from poisoning.

Another (semi) royal Henrietta was the illegitimate daughter of King James II, an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her sons William and Henry (Harry). The name Henrietta became commonly used amongst the English nobility, and still has a rather aristocratic air. It isn’t particularly common in English-speaking countries, and has been less popular in Australia than in either the United States, where it left the charts in the 1960s, or in England/Wales, where it has remained fairly stable since the 1990s, and is currently in the 500s.

In New South Wales, Henrietta was #158 in the 1900s, and fell in popularity so that it had left the charts altogether by the 1930s. You could call it a dated name, as it hasn’t charted for more than 80 years, but as it was never popular, I prefer to think of it as a vintage name. In Victoria, there were 7 babies named Henrietta in 2012.

Although Henrietta could never be accused of trendiness, it feels like a great time to give your daughter this name. Vintage and retro names are in style, four-syllable names for girls are popular, and there is a fresh appreciation for names associated with royalty. Princess Mary of Denmark has a daughter whose second name is Henrietta: not named for a queen or princess, but for Mary’s mother, Henrietta Donaldson.

This is a lovely dignified vintage name with a royal history and the attraction of never having become popular. The short form Etta is very fashionable (Henrietta Donaldson’s nickname), Hettie would be adorable, Hennie is sweet, and I have even seen a little girl named Henri in a birth notice.

Henrietta received an excellent approval rating of 77%, making it one of the highest-rated names of 2014. People saw the name Henrietta as strong and intelligent (21%), classy and dignified (17%), beautiful and charming (16%), and a vintage name ready for revival (16%). However, 7% of people thought it was ugly and frumpish.