Elly, Tilly and the Lucas Girls

Last year, I blogged about my own personal situation for International Women’s Day. This year I want to highlight a very special group of women who have made a lasting impact upon where I live- the Lucas Girls.

These were women who worked for E. Lucas & Co, a textile company which was founded by Eleanor Lucas as a home business in 1888. Widowed for the second time, Eleanor and her three daughters started sewing shirts and white work (intimate apparel). By 1917, the business had expanded to a factory with departments for childrenswear, babies’ wear and underwear, and employed 500 women.

A key part of the organisation was Tilly Thompsonof Biography Entry, who started out as a sales representative and moved to a senior management post. She was the first female commercial traveller in Australia and the first woman in Ballarat to obtain a driving licence. She was described as a woman of ‘boundless and terrifying energy’ and visited Europe prior to the start of World War I to investigate fashion trends.

One area into which she threw her energy was philanthropic works. The Lucas Girls were well known for their commnity involvement, and would often work overtime with their pay contributing to sporting clubs and other groups. The girls had a voluntary tax on their pay to pay for what has become one of Ballarat’s icons.

The Arch of Victory and the Avenue of Honour were paid for by the Lucas Girls, to commemorate the local men who had enlisted in World War I. The women would go out on weekends to plant the trees, all 3,771 of them, which stretch for 22km.

Elly Lucas passed away in 1923, leaving behind not only a business which employed women, but a Ballarat icon. A new suburb under development is to be named Lucas in her honour.

Tilly was awarded a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 1941 and in her later years became an advocate for health improvement through callisthenics and diet. She passed away in 1959 and is buried in the Ballarat Cemetery.

Too much of our history relies on stories of men doing brave and foolhardy things. It’s important especially in International Women’s Day to reflect upon the unsung heroes who offer support and care to those less fortunate, who kept the home fires burning and who simply achieve things of greatness through banding together.

Happy International Women’s Day.