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Onians, Edith Charlotte (1866–1955)

They christened her 'Miss'

Miss Edith Onians, the newsboys' friend, is dead. She was 90.

She was the little spinster who would have made a perfect wife, but who instead dedicated her life to the city's under-privileged boys.

Behind her is a record of service to boys which may never be surpassed.

A former Cabinet Minister, heads of two Government departments, and scores of successful Melbourne citizens are among the thousands of former newsboys who will mourn the passing of "Miss," or "Little Lady," as she was known, in, a Melbourne hospital yesterday.

The story of her dedication to the boys of the street, which began about 1897, had the flavor of a Dickens tale. 

She began her work in the hungry, gaslit era of the bank crashes, "sweat" working hours, and child labor.

Edith Onians, a fresh faced girl from the boarding school of Fontainebleau Ladies' College, St. Kilda, was shocked by the plight of little waifs roaming the city's streets.

She found that some used to sleep, curled up with a dog for warmth, beneath a wall of the old Melbourne morgue.

Soon she found some desks and chairs and managed to begin the rudiments of education of her "boys" in a basement below the old Bijou vaudeville theatre in Bourke st.

More than 20,000 boys passed through her hands passed through her hands and in 1936 she built a clubhouse for her City Newsboys' Society, in Little Collins st.

Ten years earlier she had persuaded the Government to pass legislation to prohibit boys under 12 selling in the street.

In later years she told how she was first inspired to her life's work when, at the age of 11, she saw a picture in a book called "Hope On, Hope Ever."

The picture depicted a well-dressed woman alighting from a carriage in front of a pastry shop, and a little boy saying: "Can you give me a penny for a bun, lady?"

Now "Miss" is gone.

Her funeral will be on Friday, after a service at 3 p.m., at St. George's Church, Glenferrie rd,  Malvern.

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Citation details

'Onians, Edith Charlotte (1866–1955)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/onians-edith-charlotte-7911/text30196, accessed 22 May 2019.

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