• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: AWE0544

Dobson, Emily

(1842 – 1934)
  • Born 10 October, 1842, Port Arthur Van Diemen's Land Australia
  • Died 5 June, 1934, Hobert Tasmania Australia
  • Occupation Advocate, Philanthropist, Welfare worker, Women's rights organiser


Emily Dobson was a tour de force in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Tasmanian society. As the wife of the State Premier, Henry Dobson, she played a central role in multiple political and charitable organisations. She was vice-president of the Tasmanian section of the National Council of Women in 1899, and attended the first meeting of the International Council of Women in London that year. Dobson became president of the National Council of Women Tasmania in 1904 and held that position until her death. She was the first Australian to be elected vice- president of the International Council of Women at the Rome quinquennial in 1914.


Emily Dobson was Tasmania’s bespectacled and formidable grand old lady by the time she died in 1934 in her early nineties. Born in Port Arthur in 1842 in what was then Van Diemen’s Land, she was influenced by the social conscience of her father, artist and public servant Thomas Lempriere, who died when she was nine years old. In 1868 she married Tasmania’s future Premier, Henry Dobson, who shared her ideas on philanthropy and temperance, linked though they were to the cause of women.

Emily Dobson became involved in just about every charitable organisation in the State of Tasmania. She was founding president of the ladies’ committee of the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution; founding president of the Ministering Children’s League; and president of the committee of management of the Victoria Convalescent Home at Lindisfarne. She co-established the New Town Consumptives’ Sanatorium in 1905, and in 1918 became first vice-president of the Child Welfare Association. She was vice-president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Tasmania and life patroness of the Tasmanian Bush Nursing Association. With her husband, she established the Free Kindergarten Association in Tasmania in 1911. That same year she established the Girl Guides’ Association of Tasmania, appointing herself State Commissioner. She founded the Tasmanian branch of the Alliance Française, and the Tasmanian Lyceum Club.

As a middle-aged woman, Dobson became secretary of the Women’s Sanitary Association, which formed in 1891 specifically to counter an outbreak of typhoid and ran candidates in the municipal election of 1892. In Hobart, her Relief Restaurant Committee operated a soup kitchen and set up the Association for Improvement of Dwellings of the Working Classes. Dobson was widely praised among her peers, but more often than not, the efforts of the Sanitary Association were belittled by local newspapers. According to historian Ruth Barton, it was ‘the anomaly of charitable women undertaking work which at home they paid sevants to do’ which attracted unfavourable press attention, and certainly the Dobson family wealth meant that Emily had no need to carry out domestic chores in her own home.

Like so many other charitably-inclined women of her time, Dobson had a particular concern for child welfare. With the Society for the Protection of Children, she secured the passage of an Infant Life Protection Act in 1907. The Act authorised members of the Society to enter homes where infants were being minded for payment, without notice. Taken at face value, the Act was a noble attempt to put an end to the practice of baby farming, but research by Caroline Evans and Naomi Parry suggests that it was an attempt to control the poorer sections of society.

Dobson was as dominant in politics as she was in health and welfare. She was a member of the Women’s Non-Party League of Hobart. She held office in the Tasmanian branch of the League of Nations Union and the Victoria League of Tasmania; the National Council of Women (State and Federal bodies); and the International Council of Women. In 1907 she represented the Tasmanian government at the Women’s Work Exhibition in Melbourne. She was honoured by the National Council of Women (Tasmania) in 1919, with the establishment of the Emily Dobson Philanthropic Prize Competition for welfare organisations.



  • 1970 - 1924

    International Council of Women

  • 1914 - 1924

    International Council of Women

  • 1906 - 1924

    Australian Delegation to International Council of Women

  • 1970 - 1970

    Ministering Children’s League

  • 1970 - 1970

    Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution Ladies’ Committee


Published resources

Archival resources

  • National Library of Australia, Manuscript Collection
    • Records of the National Council of Women of Australia, 1924-1990 [manuscript]
  • Archives Office of Tasmania
    • Correspondence, minutes and associated papers of the National Council of Women of Tasmania
  • John Oxley Library, Manuscripts and Business Records Collection
    • 7266 National Council of Women of Queensland Minute Books 1905-2004

Related entries

  • Presided
    • National Council of Women of Tasmania (1899 - )
  • Membership
    • The Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Tasmania (1885 - )
  • Related Women
    • Edwards, Dorothy Edna Annie (1907 - 2006)