Thompson, Matilda Louise (1871–1959)
A Woman of Many Firsts

Matilda ‘Tilly’ Louise Thompson, businesswoman and philanthropist, was born on 28 April 1871 at Ballarat, Victoria. Described as a woman of ‘boundless and terrifying energy’, she joined well known textile company, E Lucas Co Pty Ltd as part of their sale’s team, and went on to become Australia’s first ‘travelling sales lady’ as well as the first woman in Ballarat to obtain a drivers licence. Later she became head of production at Lucas, where she managed a staff of 250 women, and in 1913 -13 visited Europe to evaluate new machinery and fashion trends. In 1915, she became a company director.

With the outbreak of World War, Tilly and the ‘Lucas Girls’ threw themselves into charitable works to support the war effort and rose to prominence through their tireless work in establishing Ballarat’s Avenue of Honour and building the Arch of Victory, which was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in June 1920.

In 1914, Tilly married William Daniel Thompson, a wealthy mining speculator and a widower with six children. When he died in 1927 she retired and spent a number of years in Europe before returning to Ballarat in 1933, where she took embarked on a range of new projects including building ‘Sunways’, a large house on the shores of Lake Wendouree, which became a temporary refuge for ex-serviceman down on their luck.

She also gave financial support to numerous local charities, ran women’s self-help, calisthenics and dietary classes, and travelled throughout Victoria speaking to women’s groups. A vibrant woman who never lost her ability to promote unconventional ideas, she was awarded the gold medal of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia in 1939 and appointed M.B.E. in 1941. Tilly died in Ballarat on 7 April 1959.
Tilly’ Matilda Louisa THOMPSON in her motor car from the Australian Woman’s Weekly Pictorial 22 April 1939. (Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography)