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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barlow, Mary Kate (1865–1934)

by Catherine O'Carrigan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Mary Kate Barlow (1865-1934), charity worker and women's leader, was born in County Limerick, Ireland, daughter of John McDonagh and his wife Helena, née O'Gorman. She was educated at the Convent of the Faithful Companions, Laurel Hill, Limerick. In 1884 she came to Australia to visit her aunt Bedelia, wife of William Hughes. On 29 April 1887 at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, she married John Bede Barlow, architect; they lived at Airmount, Waverley, now the Christian Brothers' College.

Mary Barlow became active in fund-raising for institutions designed by her husband such as the Sacred Heart Hospice for the Dying, Lewisham Hospital, and St Vincent's Hospital Nurses' Home. In 1911 she joined the new Catholic Women's Association of New South Wales and, after the resignation of Lady Strickland in 1914, she was president until 1934. She dominated her committee and instituted Our Lady's Charity Guild, supervised the opening of a library, visited hospitals and prisons, and raised funds by organizing lectures, social evenings, and concerts directed by William Caspers, organist at St Mary's Cathedral. By 1917 she had planned the Hostel for Business Girls which was soon extended to accommodate thirty-two.

Mary Barlow served on the committees of the National Council of Women, the Victoria League, the Travellers' Aid Society, the Society of Women Writers, the Good Film League, the Prisoners' Aid Association, and the Women's Loyalty League. For the Sydney Industrial Blind Institution, she founded the Sacred Heart Braille Writers' Association to translate Catholic literature. During the Eucharistic Congress of 1928, she presided over the first Catholic women's conference, attended by some 500 delegates who set up the Australian Council of Catholic Women. For her work she was created dame of the Holy Sepulchre; in 1916 she had been awarded the Cross of Leo. In 1930-34 she was first editor of the Catholic Women's Review.

Known to her friends as 'Queenie', Mary Barlow was a gifted speaker with a keen sense of humour and was proud of her Irish heritage. She was beloved for her charm and ready sympathy. A connoisseur and keen collector of fine china and etchings, she was also knowledgeable about jewels and literature, especially poetry. Survived by two daughters, she died of suppurative arthritis of the hip in St Vincent's Hospital on 27 May 1934, aged 69, and was buried in South Head cemetery after a requiem mass at St Mary's Cathedral conducted by Archbishop Kelly. Her husband had predeceased her in 1924 and their only son had been killed in action at Gallipoli.

Select Bibliography

  • Catholic Women's Review, 19 June 1934
  • Catholic Press (Sydney), 31 May 1934
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 31 May 1934
  • Catholic Women's Association of New South Wales, minute book (Sydney Diocesan Archives, St Mary's Cathedral)
  • records (Catholic Women's League, Sydney)
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Catherine O'Carrigan, 'Barlow, Mary Kate (1865–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • McDonagh, Mary Kate

Limerick, Ireland


27 May 1934
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence