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During this period my work on the State Children's Council continued, and I never found time hang heavily on my hands; so that when Mr. Kingston met me one day later in the year, and told me he particularly wished me to accept an appointment as a member of the Destitute Board, I hesitated. "I am too old," I objected. "No, no, Miss Spence," he replied laughingly, "it is only we who grow old--you have the gift of perpetual youth." But I was nearly 72, and at any rate I thought I should first consult my friends. I found them all eager that I should accept the position. I had agitated long and often for the appointment of women on all public boards, particularly where both sexes came under treatment, and I accepted the post. Although often I have found the work tiring, I have never regretted the step I took in joining the board. Experience has emphasized my early desire that two women at least should occupy positions on it. I hope that future Governments will rectify the mistake of past years by utilizing to a greater extent the valuable aid of capable and sympathetic women in a branch of public work for which they are peculiarly fitted. Early in my career as a member of the board I found grave defects in the daily bill of fare, and set myself to the task of remedying them as far as lay in my power. For 30 years the same kind of soup, day in and day out, followed by the eternal and evergreen cabbage as a vegetable, in season and out of season, found its way to the table. My own tastes and mode of life were simplicity personified, but my stomach revolted against a dietary as unvaried as it was unappetizing. An old servant who heard that I attended the Destitute Asylum every week was loud in her lamentations that "poor dear Miss Spence was so reduced that she had to go to the Destitute every week for rations!" My thankfulness that she had misconceived the position stirred me to leave no stone unturned for the betterment of the destitute bill of fare. I was successful, and the varied diet now enjoyed bears witness to the humanitarian views of all the members of the board, who were as anxious to help in the reform as I was. My heart has always gone out to the poor old folk whose faces bear the impress of long years of strenuous toil and who at the close of life at least should find a haven of restfulness and peace in the State for whose advancement they have laboured in the past.
She was a witty woman who divided autobiographies into two classes... autobiographies and ought-not-to-biographies--but I am sure she never attempted to write one herself. There is so much in one's life that looms large from a personal point of view about which other people would care little, and the difficulty often arises, not so much about what to put in as what to leave out.
How much my personal interests had widened during my absence from home could be gauged somewhat by the enormous increase in my correspondence after my return. American, Canadian, English, and Continental correspondents have kept me for many years well informed on reform and kindred subjects; and the letters I have received, and the replies they have drawn from me, go far to make me doubt the accuracy of the accepted belief that "letter writing has become a lost art." A full mind with a facile pen makes letter writing a joy, and both of these attributes I think I may fairly claim. My correspondence with Alfred Cridge was kept up till his death a few years ago, and his son, following worthily in the footsteps of a noble father, has taken up the broken threads of the lifework of my friend, and is doing his utmost to carry it to a successful issue. My love of reading, which has been a characteristic feature of my life, found full scope for expression in the piles of books which reached us from all parts of the world. It has always been my desire to keep abreast of current literature, and this, by means of my book club and other sources, I was able to do. Sometimes my friends from abroad sent me copies of their own publications, Dr. Bayard Holmes invariably forwarding to me a presentation copy of his most valuable treatises on medical subjects. Mrs. Stetson's poems and economic writings have always proved a source of inspiration to me, and I have distributed her books wherever I have thought they would be appreciated. Just at this time my financial position became brighter. I was fortunate in being able to dispose of my two properties in East Adelaide, and the purchasing of an annuity freed me entirely from money and domestic worries. Perhaps the greatest joy of all was that I was once more able to follow my charitable inclinations by giving that little mite which, coming opportunely, gladdens the heart of the disconsolate widow or smoothes the path of the struggling worker. Giving up my home entirely, I went to live with my dear friend Mrs. Baker, at Osmond terrace, where, perhaps, I spent the most restful period of a somewhat eventful life.
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An Autobiography -by- Catherine Helen Spence