Profile - Mary Wright (1903-1993)
Mary Wright (born Mary McAdam and later known as Mary Lamm) was born in Sydney in 1903. She had a challenging childhood and following her grandmother’s death, she and her sister were sent to live with relatives and never saw their parents again. At age 16 Mary rented a room in Redfern with her sister and supported herself working at a milk bar until 1920 when she married seaman John Lamm. John took a job as a wharfie so he could spend more time at home and became very involved with his union, the Waterside Workers Federation.
Through reading the newspaper Workers’ Weekly, Mary learned of the Militant Women’s Group (MWG). With baby Polly in her arms, Mary arrived at the Sydney Trades Hall and informed the women that she had come to join them. She juggled parenting with her passion for activism and furthering the rights of women and workers. In 1929, she took her daughter Polly in her pram to join other families on the timber-workers’ picket line in Glebe, and organised support for the locked-out men.
With John too ill to work, Mary had to keep their children on handouts from the Benevolent Society. A pregnant Mary continued her work, delivering the Workers’ Weekly around Glebe and making soup for the unemployed. Even though she could barely feed and clothe her children, her home became a depot for donations for striking and unemployed workers.
In 1930 Mary stood as the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) candidate for Annandale. The CPA did not perform well, but Mary was shocked and embarrassed to have been their most successful candidate.
In 1931 Mary’s husband John died of cancer. Mary met Tom Wright through their work with the Unemployed Workers’ Movement. Tom was a prominent trade union leader and communist. They began a relationship, living together for the next ten years before marrying in 1941.
In the mid-1930s Mary became the occasional editor of Working Woman and Woman To-day, and in 1936 was President of the first International Women’s Day committee. She was a member of the Council of the United Associations of Women and the Women’s Charter conferences of 1943 and 1946 and became a key member of the Union of Australian Women. She also continually supported her husband Tom in his activism and trade union work.
Mary Wright died in Sydney on 18 April 1993 at the age of 90.
Johnson, A 1990, Bread & roses: a personal history of three militant women and their friends 1902-1988, Left Book Club Co-op, Sutherland, NSW.
Stevens, J 1987, Taking the revolution home: work among women in the Communist Party of Australia 1920-1945, Sybylla Co-operative Press an Publications, Fitzroy, Vic.