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Egan, Katherine Rose (1861–1951)

by Hilary M. Carey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Katherine Rose Egan (1861-1951), charity worker, was born on 4 September 1861 at Walmer, Kent, England, daughter of Thomas Henry Charles Egan, barrack sergeant, and his wife Mary Ann, née Santry. Kate was educated at Catholic schools in France. About 1900 she came to Sydney to join her elder sister Annie Mary (d.1928) who had married John Thomas Toohey. A keen golfer (with a handicap of ten in 1907), Miss Egan had become an associate member (1902) of Royal Sydney Golf Club and was to be associate president (1926-42); she was also an associate (from 1904) of the Australian Golf Club and secretary (by 1906) of the New South Wales Ladies' Golf Union. In 1912 Egan was an original shareholder in the Queen's Club.

A foundation member (1913) of the New South Wales division of the Australian branch of the British Red Cross Society, Egan served on its executive until her death. In World War I she was a member of the finance, clothing and convalescent homes sub-committees, director of the receiving and packing depot, and a delegate (1914-38 and 1940) to the central council. In 1918 she was appointed M.B.E. She had charge of the Red Cross clothing depot in the 1920s, served on the finance committee in the 1930s and was the Red Cross representative (1933-51) on the council of the New South Wales Bush Nursing Association. An honorary life member of Red Cross from 1934, she was a vice-president (1948-51) of the State division.

Egan's affluence and English background distinguished her from the predominantly working-class, Irish Catholics in Sydney. One of the most influential women in the archdiocese, she and Lady Sheldon led the committee which raised funds for an independent college for Catholic women within the University of Sydney; Egan was an original member of the Sancta Sophia College council from 1929. She received a Papal diploma and 'Benemerenti' medal that year.

Following the death of her friend Mary Barlow in 1934, Egan was recommended to Archbishop Kelly to be president of the Catholic Women's Association. She used the association to further projects and supported them with her own money. In 1936 she established the Catholic Women's Club, as well as auxiliaries to work for the blind, the deaf and the sick. Interested in setting up a Catholic mission and facilities for religious instruction in the Aboriginal settlement at La Perouse, she organized members to fund and staff mission work, and gave £1000 for a brick hall at Yarra to which she refused the state schoolmaster access. A subsidy from the association later allowed the Sisters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart to run a convent school at Yarra. When Archbishop (Cardinal Sir Norman) Gilroy assumed tighter control of Catholic laywomen's affairs, Egan resigned as president of the Catholic Women's Association in 1941, but became a vice-president of its successor, the Legion of Catholic Women.

During World War II, as well as working for the Red Cross as honorary director (1941-48) of branch material supply, Egan was foundation president (1939) of the Catholic United Services Auxiliary which in 1940 opened and staffed a recreational hut in St Marys Road, Sydney, for service personnel. She chaired the R.S.G.C.'s comforts fund and in 1943 provided afternoon teas at the club which raised over £1000 for war charities. In addition, she worked for Lewisham and St Vincent's hospitals, and for the Waitara Foundling Home. Kate Egan died on 9 September 1951 in Lewisham Hospital and was buried in South Head cemetery. Her estate was sworn for probate at £31,123; part of her income had derived from Toohey's will.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Kennedy, Faith and Feminism (Syd, 1985)
  • H. Carey, Truly Feminine, Truly Catholic (Syd, 1987)
  • C. Tatz and B. Stoddart, The Royal Sydney Golf Club (Syd, 1993)
  • Australian Red Cross Society (New South Wales), Annual Report, 1913-1951
  • Sydney Mail, 23 Aug 1902, 12 Aug 1903, 17 Aug 1904, 16 Aug 1905, 22 Aug 1906, 21 Aug 1907
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Mar 1918, 18 Feb 1925, 24 May 1929, 4 July 1934, 6 Aug 1940
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 13 Sept 1951.

Citation details

Hilary M. Carey, 'Egan, Katherine Rose (1861–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/egan-katherine-rose-10103/text17833, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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