Woman Brookes, Ivy

Charity Worker, Philanthropist and Political Activist

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Ivy Brookes was born in the Melbourne suburb of South Yarra, Victoria in 1882, the eldest daughter of politician Alfred Deakin and his wife, Pattie. With her sisters she was involved from childhood in the philanthropic activities of her mother and her aunt, Catherine Deakin (Age, 12 February 1949). After completing her secondary education she followed her musical interests until her marriage in 1905 to widowed businessman and Deakin ally, Herbert Brookes. Three children were born to the couple. Herbert and Ivy shared many interests and were substantial donors to political, cultural and charitable causes.

Brookes was a key supporter of her father's political activities and is credited with being key to his campaign to enlist women to the Liberal cause, a stance which brought her into conflict with the Australian Women's National League. Described as possessing 'some [of her father's] eloquence and magnetism' (Fitzherbert, p.129) she worked with her husband to establish Liberal Leagues across the country. Her biographer has suggested that it was not politics as such that attracted Ivy, but the ability to use politics to bring about social change (Fitzherbert, p. 130). She was a firm believer in equality for men and women and was an early supporter of the equal pay for equal work campaign and urged governments to provide better support for mothers, constructing alliances with liberal, feminist and progressive women, although some of these were threatened by her support for conscription during World War I (Smart, p. 18).

After her father's death Brookes relinquished her roles in political organisations and focused on her charitable work, assuming leadership in a range of women's organisations, including, eventually, the Australian Women's National League. She believed that more 'experienced, qualified women' should be involved in public life, arguing that 'just as a home is incomplete without the complement of wife to husband, so in public life the combined judgement of men and women is invaluable and essential' (Age, 12 February 1949). For fifty years she sat on the committee of the Women's Hospital where she was valued for her 'sound judgment and business ability' (Argus, 2 July 1937). She was also active in the National Council of Women, and the Playgrounds Association and was the first president of the Housewives' Association, campaigning against rising prices during World War I and deputy-chairwoman of the Australian Comforts Fund during World War II. With her husband she was a generous donor to the University of Melbourne (Argus, 21 March 1935), and served on the Faculty of Music, the Board of Physical Education and the Board of Social Studies established to oversee the introduction of social work education. She was also an early advocate of university education for nurses (Brisbane Courier, 15 August 1933).

Asked, later in life, to describe a typical day, Brookes constructed an account filled with family, charitable and social activities. She credited her freedom to be so involved to her husband's 'belief in the equality of the sexes, and his help and co-operation with me in my work' (quoted in Cochrane, p. 20), and observed that, in Australia, there was less demarcation between by men and women engaged in philanthropic work than she had found in the United States (Argus, 20 January 1931). A member of more than 25 organisations and a committee member for most of them, Brookes was described as 'never merely a figurehead or a sleeping partner in any enterprise with which she allows her name to be associated' (Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1937). She credited her parents with teaching her 'how to use time to its fullest advantage' (Age, 12 February 1949). 'Many interests', she commented, 'make for a full life' (Sydney Morning Herald, 8 July 1936). However, in the years after World War II she argued that the lack of help in the home threatened to limit the opportunities for younger women to participate as fully in voluntary work as had been possible in the past (Age, 12 February 1949).

Brookes died in 1970. Her daughter Jessie, one of the early graduates in social work from the University of Melbourne, followed in her mother's footsteps (Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1937).

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection

  • Papers of Herbert (1867-1963) and Ivy Brookes (1883-1970), 1869 - 1970, MS 1924; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details

Published Resources


  • Fitzherbert, Margaret, Liberal Women: Federation - 1949, Federation Press, Sydney, New South Wales, 2004. Details

Journal Articles

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources