Woman Ackermann, Jessie (1857 - 1951)

Frankfort, Illinois, United States of America
California, United States of America
Social reformer, Temperance activist and Writer

Written by Patricia Grimshaw, The University of Melbourne

Jessie Ackermann was an American advocate of temperance and women's rights, who as an international missionary for the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) spent a number of years in Australia as an organiser and social reformer. She wrote the first book-length study of Australian women.

Ackermann was born in 1857 in Frankfort, Illinois, daughter of Charles and Amanda Ackermann. She studied at the University of California at Berkeley, but did not graduate, but instead took up work as an organiser first for the temperance organization the Good Templars, and then for the WCTU. After work in Alaska in 1888 she was appointed a round-the-world missionary for the World's WCTU and set out on her first journey to spread the organisation and its ideas that combined progressive policies on women's issues with opposition to the use of alcohol, narcotics and nicotine. Ackermann followed on the work of Mary Leavitt, the previous American envoy, and was rewarded with rapidly expanding membership. The Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Australasia (later the National Women's Christian Temperance Union of Australia) was formed in 1891 at a meeting held in Melbourne to federate the existing colonial Unions, with Ackermann as the first president. This constituted the first intercolonial meeting of a woman's organisation held in the Australian colonies.

The Australian colonial branches of the WCTU, that included women's rights as a central plank in their pursuit of social reform, campaigned effectively for the vote through dedicated franchise units. The strong grounding of WCTU members in Protestant evangelical Christianity, along with their aim to encourage sobriety and lobby governments to control alcohol, lent particular determination and skills to the overall campaign. Given her strong personal support for women's rights and the active part the WCTU played in the fight for the vote, Ackermann must be viewed as a key player in Australia's suffrage movement.

Ackermann wrote prolifically for journals and newspapers and published several books, including The World through a Woman's Eyes (1896); What Women Have Done with the Vote (1913); and Australia from a Woman's Point of View (1913). The latter book for the first time offered a systematic analysis of the place of women in Australian society and suggested its historical underpinnings. Described by the contemporary press as 'a brilliant talker', she impressed audiences by 'her splendid stature... her great eloquence... [and] her wonderful fund of information gathered from every quarter of the globe' (West Australian, 6 May 1907, p. 5). Ackermann continued her activism in many other fields and countries across the decades of a long and energetic life. She died in California in 1951.

Published Resources


  • Oldfield, Audrey, Woman Suffrage in Australia: A Gift or a Struggle?, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1992. Details
  • Tyrrell, Ian, Woman's world/​Woman's empire : the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in international perspective, 1880-1930, University of North Carolina (UNC) Press, Chapel Hill, United States of America, 1991. Details

Online Resources

See also