In the words of founding editor, George Warnecke, “When The Australian Women’s Weekly sees genius, it goes after it.” So began the magazine editing career of Alice Mabel Jackson, an inspiring trailblazer for women who desired a life beyond the limiting bounds of 20th century domesticity.
A LIFE IN FOCUS
Born Alice Mabel Archibald on October 15, 1887 in Ulmarra, New South Wales, she was one of eight children. “She had an enormous intellect,” says her granddaughter, Jenny Morawska. “She used to sit on her balcony and listen to her father teaching primary school lessons. She was already reading and writing at four years and had a real thirst for knowledge.”
After finishing her education in Perth, Alice was employed as a teacher from 1906, but her appointment ‘lapsed on account of marriage’ to fellow educator, Samuel Henry Jackson, ten years later. “She first met Sam just before he went to Gallipoli. He sent her a pressed violet and they became her favourite flower for the rest of her life,” says Jenny, who describes their marriage as solid. While Sam went on to have a successful career in the United Nations, Alice is remembered as the driven one. “She was a dynamic visionary of her times while Sam was the quiet backbone in their relationship,” Jenny says. “She wasn’t warm and cuddly, but she was kind.”
A move to Sydney several years later was the start of a brand new chapter – the birth of their two children and a new career in journalism. After gaining experience in newspapers, Alice joined The Australian Women’s Weekly from its inception in 1933. Her talent was recognised by the editor, Warnecke, and she took the editing reigns in his absence in 1934, a position she held officially from 1939 to 1950.
Renowned for her business acumen, Alice set up a national distribution system and boosted the Australian news and fiction content, a move that saw the magazine rapidly increase its circulation. Under ‘Mrs J’, as she was affectionately dubbed by those close to her, the magazine played a significant role in influencing and shaping Australian culture, its contents spanning a broad genre: respectable (Royal pageantry, romance, beauty and fashion) and practical (recipes and dress patterns), but also satirical and socially aware (particularly of the discriminatory treatment of women).
Not one to shy away from hard work, Alice was an accredited war correspondent and personally rolled up her sleeves for several wartime initiatives in the early 1940s, including the distribution of clothes for air-raid victims in England. “She was intrepid,” says Jenny, who admits that her grandmother also had some lucky escapes. “When she flew out from London after the ‘Bundles for Britain’ campaign, her plane was running late and they threw back through Hawaii. Pearl Harbour was bombed just a few hours later.”
During Alice’s editorship the Weekly became an arbiter of style and fashion, though she wasn’t one to push fashion boundaries herself. “There was an air of formality about her, she was always very elegant,” says Jenny. “She was once described as a pint-sized galleon with gloves and hat. There were very few women in her position and, on reflection, her conservative dress was probably a mask, a way of being in what was a man’s world.”
By the end of her editorship in 1950 the magazine’s circulation was close to a staggering 750,000. Nine decades since its inception, The Australian Women’s Weekly continues that same tradition of reflecting, influencing and shaping the lives of Australian women today.
Survived by her daughter and son, Alice Jackson died on October 28, 1974 in Sydney.
The Australian Women’s Weekly: 90 Years of an Australian Icon exhibition
The Australian Women’s Weekly: 90 Years of an Australian Icon opens on Sat 27 May and closes on Sat 27 August at Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street, Bendigo VIC. The exhibition celebrates the contributions of some of the influential and trailblazing women who have made the Weekly a magazine for women, by women. On display will be some of Alice Jackson’s photos from her time at the Weekly.
27 May – 27 August, 2023
10am – 5pm daily
Bendigo Art Gallery, 42 View Street Bendigo VIC