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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Helen Glezer (1939–2015)

by Sally A. White

On November 20, 1972, readers of The Age were confronted with an unusual special feature: a women voters' guide to the forthcoming federal election. This radical approach to voter information was the first public appearance of the Women's Electoral Lobby, which was to become significant in forming government policy on women's issues.

The woman who steered that historic guide to maturity, Helen Glezer, has died in Melbourne, aged 75. She had been pictured in that 1972 feature with federal minister Andrew Peacock. In February that year Helen was a psychology graduate, wife and mother of two when feminist activist Beatrice Faust invited nine women to her home to discuss the possibility of replicating a US survey of candidates' attitudes to women's issues. The intention was educational and non-party political. The guiding principle was to "vote candidate, not party".

After an unsuccessful pilot survey by post, WEL decided to expand the project to face-to-face interviews. Research briefs on areas from taxation and the environment to contraception and childcare were prepared. Helen and colleagues Carmen Lawrence and Pat Strong wrote a draft for endorsement by WEL members. The resulting survey was large and unwieldy so the scope was restricted to issues directly relating to women's lives. The decision prompted one candidate to complain that WEL only asked about sex. He left before the questions on equal pay and education.

Within months WEL groups were formed around the country, enabling national coverage. All candidates were to be interviewed personally by two women to ensure accuracy and eliminate possible bias. 

Helen led a team that worked on the project. She refined the wording of questions, oversaw the training of the interview pairs and the analysis and coding of the results. Her skills were invaluable, her contribution enormous. 

The WEL survey was just part of the professional career of a young woman who had left Korowa at 16, studied at secretarial school, gained her matriculation at night school and then a degree in psychology at the University of Melbourne.

At university she pursued her interest in politics and social justice. It was at an anti-White Australia policy demonstration that a Jewish arts student, Leon Glezer, first saw her. They didn't talk until they shared a tram ride and Leon paid her fare. They married in 1965. Their two children were pre-schoolers when the WEL survey invaded their Hawthorn home for nine months. With Leon's calm support and her own organisational skills, Helen coped admirably.

After the survey, Helen worked as a student counsellor and psychologist and, while studying for her master's thesis in sociology at La Trobe University, was director of Camcare, a community counselling and family support service. 

In 1981 the foundation director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, Dr Don Edgar, recruited her as a research fellow. He knew she had engineered the WEL study and understood that the traditional Australian family was changing. 

Helen became part of the team designing and implementing the Institute's landmark Australian Family Formation Study. Don Edgar says her strengths lay in conceptualising the issues and analysing the data. Later, among numerous projects, she worked on a study for the ACTU on maternity leave that had a major effect on policies about work-family balance and opened the way for parental leave. She investigated marriage counselling and the issues surrounding marriage, which threw up previously unrecognised findings about the different expectations that men and women had of the institution.

She remained at the institute for 19 years, where she had a distinctive personal role, according to former colleague Gay Ochiltree. "If anyone was down or having difficulty with relationships, they went to Helen for advice and comfort." 

So, too, did her family and friends. Her standing-room only funeral attested to that. Mourners – from a wide diversity of faith and cultural backgrounds—spoke of her wisdom, clarity of mind, humility, willingness to help those in distress, dedication to friends and work and abiding love of her family.

Families – her own and other people's – were Helen Glezer's driving force. Committed in public and private life to family, she sought the elusive goal of work-life balance.  

She is survived by her husband, Leon, children Sarah and Ben, grandchildren Asher and Raphaelle, son-in-law Ben, sister Hilary and extended family.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Sally A. White, 'Glezer, Helen (1939–2015)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 23 February 2024.

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