Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (School of Arts and Sciences)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Dr Leigh Straw

Second Supervisor

Dr Shane Burke


Many impoverished women struggled to raise their children without support in Fremantle, Western Australia, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This thesis investigates how these women managed to provide for their children, and keep their families together, at a time when society expected women to be supported by men. The appalling living conditions in the slum areas of Fremantle, which often led to serious health issues that further impacted on women’s struggle for survival, are explored as well as how the denial of legal rights, and harsh community attitudes towards these women, exacerbated already difficult situations. Options such as institutional homes that were available to assist impoverished women and children are also investigated. However, there was a strong stigma in applying to these institutions and women feared being separated from their children. Using primary historical records in Western Australia at the State Library and the State Records Office as well as information from websites such as Ancestry and Trove, census data and personal collections, this thesis focuses on the lives of four impoverished women as examples of the way that women survived. The most common way that impoverished women managed economically at that time was cleaning houses or offices, doing washing or working as a domestic servant, and three of the four women made their living this way. Impoverished women often assisted each other by sharing child-minding and providing limited accommodation. Scant information in the secondary literature exists on how unsupported, impoverished women and their children survived in Fremantle from 1890-1914. Thus, this thesis explores an under-researched part of Fremantle’s history and contributes new knowledge regarding impoverished women’s lives in Western Australia.