Woman Dixson, Emma Elizabeth


Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Emma Dixson was born in 1844, and rose to prominence as a philanthropist after her marriage, in 1866, to Hugh, later Sir Hugh Dixson, who was to build a career as a tobacco manufacturer. They were the parents of nine children, three of whom predeceased them. Devout Baptists the couple gave privately and publicly, Sir Hugh to church and other religious and civic causes, Lady Dixson to a wide range of religious, charitable, patriotic and imperial organisations.

After holding office on a large number of committees, increasingly in later life Dixson moved to offering patronage and substantial donations to the organisations with which she chose to be involved, taking a personal interest in her favourite causes (Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 1922). In 1900, for example she donated the total operating costs for the initial year of the Sydney Medical Mission (Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1900). When the committee of the Consumptive Homes seemed unable to begin their building program because of insufficient funds, she urged them to lower their ambitions. 'Get ... a grant of land from the Government, and put up one or two weatherboard buildings', was her advice (Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 2 October 1900). Her large donation that allowed the expansion of the Crown St Women's Hospital was sufficient to underwrite its initial operating costs as well (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 July 1920). She took a particular interest in the boy scout movement with the Dulwich Hill troop known as Lady Dixson's Own (Sydney Morning Herald, 14 April 1922).

Dixson's approach to philanthropy was ameliorative rather than progressive, and she publicly disagreed with prominent feminists such as Rose Scott who criticised women's dependence on men. 'Love', she argued, meant that there were instances in which 'women cheerfully accepted burdens and dependence on that account' (Sydney Morning Herald, 26 June 1901). Her husband credited her with being the driving force in the couple's philanthropic activities 'ever present at his side to remind him as to his course of action in these matters' (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 July 1907).

Emma Dixson died in Sydney in 1922, leaving bequests to four major charitable institutions and a year's salary to each of her servants of longstanding (Sydney Morning Herald, 10 June 1922). A Surry Hills Mothers and Babies centre was named in her honour (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 June 1922). When her husband died four years later the bulk of his substantial estate was left to family members.

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