Julia Margaret (Bella) Guerin (1858-1923), feminist, political activist and teacher, was born on 23 April 1858. . . . Having studied at home to pass matriculation in 1878, Bella became the first woman to graduate from an Australian university when she gained her B.A. from the University of Melbourne in December 1883, becoming M.A. upon application in 1885.
As vice-president of the Women’s Political Association in 1912-14 Bella Guerin co-authored Vida Goldstein‘s 1913 Senate election pamphlet, but dual membership of non-party feminist and Labor Party organizations proved untenable. From 1914 she wrote and spoke for the Labor and Victorian Socialist parties and the Women’s League of Socialists, and was recognized as a ‘witty, cogent and instructive’ commentator on a range of controversial social issues; they included the rights of illegitimate children, ‘brotherhood and sisterhood without sex distinction’ and defence of English militant suffragettes. An ardent anti-war propagandist, she led the Labor Women’s Anti-Conscription Fellowship campaign during the 1916 referendum and spoke in Adelaide, Broken Hill and Victorian metropolitan and country centres against militarism and in defence of rights of assembly and free speech.
Appointed vice-president of the Labor Party’s Women’s Central Organizing Committee in March 1918, she aroused censure and controversy for describing Labor women as ‘performing poodles and packhorses’ under represented in policy decisions and relegated to auxiliary fund raising roles