Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

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    Portrait Sara Dowse, 15 March 2005, by Loui Seselja, courtesy of National Library of Australia. Used with permission..
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Exhibitions

  • From Lady Denman to Katy Gallagher: A Century of Women's Contributions to Canberra
  • The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia

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Dowse, Sara (1938 - )

Born
12 November 1938
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Occupation
Feminist, Women's rights activist, Writer and Public servant
Alternative Names
  • Rosenthal, Dale Sara (name on birth certificate)

Summary

Sara Dowse is a prize-winning writer of reviews and Canberra-themed fiction. A feminist and women's rights activist, she was a member of the Women's Liberation Movement and the Women's Electoral Lobby-ACT. She became the inaugural head of the Women's Affairs Section of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (now Office of the Status of Women) for the Whitlam government.


(This entry is sponsored by generous donation from Christine Foley.)

Details

Born in Chicago, USA, Sara Dowse (nee Rosenthal) grew up in Hollywood, the daughter of an actor mother and celebrity lawyer father. Born of Jewish parents, she experienced anti-semitism in her early years, and left for Australia at nineteen (in 1958) when she married a visiting Australian footballer.

She studied Arts at Sydney University, and after experiencing sexism as a pregnant student and in society generally, she became what has been described as an 'old-style feminist'.

She arrived in Canberra in 1968 and worked as a journalist, publisher's field editor and tutor at the Canberra College of Advanced Education. She was a member of the Women's Liberation Movement and the Women's Electoral Lobby-ACT, and became the inaugural head of the Women's Affairs Section of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (now the Office of the Status of Women) for the Whitlam government. At the time of her appointment, she was dubbed 'Supergirl' by the press.

Dowse became spokesperson for 130 organisations that opposed the removal of lawfully performed abortions from the medical benefits scheme.

After a publicised resignation from the public service, she worked as a teacher at The Australian National University, a reviewer for newspapers and journals, and became a writer of novels and short stories. She has also been an interviewer for the National Library of Australia's Oral History Program. She was forty-five when her first novel, West Block, based on her experiences in the Prime Minister's department, was published in 1983.

Dowse's other books include Silver City (1984), Schemetime (1990), Sapphires (1994) - a largely autobiographical work about rediscovering Jewish roots - and Digging (1996). She has contributed to Worth Her Salt: Women at Work in Australia (1982); Leaving School, It's Harder for Girls (1983); Women, Social Welfare and the State (1983), Sisterhood is Global (1984) and Home Grown Anthology (1993).

She was a member of Seven Writers - a group of seven Canberra-based writers whose work vividly portrayed life 'beneath the surface of Canberra' - and as part of this collective she contributed to Canberra Tales (1988), republished as The Division of Love in 1996, an anthology of short stories about life in Canberra. The work received an ACT Bicentennial Award.

Dowse has also been awarded the AIPS/APSA Women in Politics Prize (1982); 3M/Royal Blind Society Talking Book of the Year (1994); ACT Book of the Year (1995); ACT Book Reviewer of the Year (1995 and joint winner in 1997 with Marion Halligan). She was short-listed for the Steele Rudd Award (1995) and long-listed for the IMPAC Dublin Prize (1996). She has also been the recipient of an Australia Council fellowship; a Harold White Fellowship (1991) and an ACT Literary Fellowship (1996).

Sara Dowse has five children.

Sources used to compile this entry: From Lady Denman to Katy Gallagher: A Century of Women's Contributions to Canberra, Australian Women's Archives Project, February 2013, http://www.womenaustralia.info/exhib/ldkg; Lake, Marilyn, Getting Equal: The History of Australian Feminism, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, New South Wales, 1999, 316 pp; 'Supergirl: a silent champion', West Australian, 27/3/76, p.4; 'New women's affairs head stays in the background', Sydney Morning Herald, 31/3/76, p.24; 'Shy sister Sarah', The Herald [Melbourne], 4/6/76, p.21; 'Feminist views response to 'social malaise'. Canberra Times, 7/1/90, p.26; 'Straight from the heart', Canberra Times, 8/3/94, p.?; 'Change of cultures'. Sydney Morning Herald, 18/3/95, p.21; 'The real scribes of Canberra', Canberra Times, 31/1/97, p.16; 'The not at all secret seven', Sydney Morning Herald, 14/10/95, [page unavailable]; 'Return of the seven', Canberra Times, 10/2/96, 11; Canberra Times, 31/1/97, p.16; 'And then there were five', Canberra Times, 21/11/98, 'Panorama' liftout.

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Archival resources

National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection

  • Papers of Dale Sara Dowse (1938-), 1958 - 1998, MS 7365; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Interview with Julia Ryan, feminist. Interviewer, Sara Dowse, c. 1970 - 1990, ORAL TRC 2651; Ryan, Julia (1937 - ); National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Digital resources

Title
Portrait of former women's advisers Rosemary Calder, Sara Dowse and Elizabeth Reid, 6th August 2005
Type
Image
Date
2005
Creator
Bob Givens
Source
National Library of Australia, vn3573575. Used with permission.

Details

Title
Portrait Sara Dowse, 15 March 2005
Type
Image
Date
2005
Creator
Loui Seselja
Control
nla.int-nl39438-ls8
Source
National Library of Australia. Used with permission.

Details

Barbara Lemon

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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