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In 1899, 72 women enrolled at the Burnley School of Horticulture, Melbourne to study part-time a ‘Certificate of Competency in Horticulture’. This was a ground-breaking moment for women wishing to work in horticulture, as Burnley was the only educational institution in Australia at the time providing horticultural instruction. Australia looked to Great Britain for direction and observed the English tradition in establishing agricultural and horticultural colleges to address rising unemployment and new advances in technology brought about by the Industrial Revolution. It caused a change in working patterns in the Western World and created a demand for education and training. Education brought knowledge and women began to question the established belief that their place was in the home. A forwarded thinking Victorian colonial government passed the Agricultural Colleges Act in 1891 that establish an institution to train young men in horticulture. The 1880s and 1890s were a turbulent time in Melbourne and one well-educated middle class Irish immigrant, Ina Higgins became involved in the suffragist movement, demanding the right to vote. The suffragists were also feminists and demanded better education, health care and equal pay for equal work for women. Higgins, interested in gardening, lobbied the Principal of Burnley, Charles Bogue Luffman, to allow women students and he agreed. Luffman, well aware of the feminist movement in England and the opening of many women’s only horticultural colleges, agreed and thus begun the formal education of women in horticulture in Melbourne. This decision challenged society’s perception of women as delicate “flowers”; not capable of manual labour. It also challenged the male-only apprenticeship system creating competition between the not so well-educated apprentices and scientifically-trained women, who had studied the sciences of soil, chemistry and botany. These women excelled creating opportunities for the next generation and subsequent ones succeeding in making a sustainable career.

Publication Details
Source title:
Proceedings of the 14th Australasian Urban History Planning History Conference 2018
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