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Jessie Street
, 1929

by Jerrold Nathan

oil on canvas (frame: 125.0 cm x 100.0 cm depth 12.8 cm, support: 101.0 cm x 76.0 cm)

Jessie, Lady Street (1889–1970), feminist and activist, had a 50-year career encompassing achievements on landmark issues such as family planning, equal pay and equal employment. She became interested in women’s issues in the 1910s and in the interwar years she intervened in unemployment relief, the plight of Jewish refugees, and Indigenous rights. She stood unsuccessfully as a Labor Party candidate in the federal elections of 1939 and 1946; in between, in 1945, she was the sole Australian woman delegate to the founding of the United Nations, where she pressed for women’s rights. Street first visited Russia in 1938, and was president of the Australian Russian Society from 1946; as the Cold War developed, she was (falsely) accused of communist sympathies. In 1949, expelled from the Labor party, she stood unsuccessfully as an independent candidate. For much of the 1950s she worked for the World Peace Council in London.

Artist Jerrold Nathan was a friend of Jessie Street’s, and this portrait is one of two he entered in the 1929 Archibald Prize (the other was of Linda Littlejohn, co-founder with Street of the United Associations of Women). It demonstrates Nathan’s facility and apparent preference for depicting women in their finery, although Jessie Street is said to have been more comfortable wearing a suit, blouse and sensible shoes.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the Street family and the Jessie Street National Women's Library 2010
Accession number: 2010.64