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On 16 March 1974: a group of Sydney feminists broke into two adjoining vacant houses, 'Elsie' and 'Minnie', at 73 and 75 Westmoreland Street on the Glebe Estate in Sydney.

Once inside, they changed the locks to establish residency and claimed squatter's rights.

Safe haven_ Elsie, Australia's first women's refuge, in the mid 1970s.CREDIT_FAIRFAXSYNDIC

The group was led by Dr Anne Summers  AO with Jennifer Dakers, Carole Baker, Margaret Power, Lina Clayton and Bessie Guthrie. Dozens of women joined them that day to break into the houses and start the massive cleanup needed to make them ready to accommodate women and children. That day, without knowing it, they had started a movement that would help save the lives of thousands of women and children across Australia.

Mothers and their children outside the Elsie Women's Refuge shelter for women, Sydney, 25
Mothers and their infants in the kitchen of Elsie Women's Refuge shelter for women, Sydney

Elsie Women’s Refuge the first of what would grow to more than 800 refuges over the next half-century. 


In her book, Ducks on the Pond, Anne reflects: 

It is not always obvious at the time that history is being made.


Although Elsie had been started by a handful of women, most of them young and very radical even by the standards of the day, its influence was extraordinary. It was one of those rare moments when the right idea leads to an important social change. Something happened and although, sadly, we have not come close to ending the scourge of domestic violence, we now as a society accept that we owe those afflicted a safe haven and the chance for a new life. It was one of the women's movement's finest hours.

Almost four decades on: Elsie pioneers visit the Glebe laneway christened in honor of the refuge and its legacy. From left to right: Annie Bickford, Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore, Anne Summers, Margaret Power, Jozefa Sobszki and Sue Wills.

Margaret Power, one of the founding mothers of Elsie and who is pictured above, passed away on 10th February 2024. We will be honouring Margaret and the other founding mothers at the Elsie Conference opening ceremony. You can read more about Margaret's life here.


Our Story - Elsie Timeline


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