Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Genders, Dorothy Edna (1892–1978)

by Wendy Birman

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

Dorothy Edna Genders (1892-1978), Anglican deaconess, was born on 27 July 1892 at Launceston, Tasmania, younger daughter of William John Genders (d.1901), merchant, and his first wife Lilly Louisa, née Westbrook (d.1892). Educated locally, Dorothy belonged to a church-going family whose generosity extended to the poor and needy. She was guided by her stepmother Mabel (née Brownrigg), her grandfather J. C. Genders and her paternal aunt Marion Louisa Holmes whom she visited in Perth in 1912. While there, Genders felt called to enter the Church. After serving in St John's Mission House at Launceston, she went to Sydney in 1917, studied at Deaconess House and attended classes at Moore Theological College, and undertook pastoral work. Made deaconess in 1919, she gained a licentiate (1925) from the Australian College of Theology, but was rejected for missionary service because of her small physique and apparent frailty.

In 1928 Genders again visited the Holmes family in Perth. Next year, on Archbishop Le Fanu's invitation, she returned to work as the rector's assistant at St Barnabas's Church, Buckland Hill; she also trained aspiring deaconesses. Although her stipend was small, she had adequate private means to build a cottage in McCabe Street, Mosman Park, in which she sheltered the destitute and shared a generous table. At the archbishop's request, she moved in 1931 to St Bartholomew's, East Perth, where she took responsibility for pastoral work in the absence of an incumbent rector. She turned the rectory into a refuge for deserted women and children, battered wives and prostitutes; police brought distressed women to the rectory at all hours, knowing that its doors were always open. In 1948 the refuge received 240 destitute women.

Visitations took 'Sister Dorothy' to St Hilda's, North Perth, the Children's Court, the Child Welfare Department, hospitals, private homes and Fremantle Gaol. While 'We who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished' was her favourite collect for women prisoners, her compassion prevailed. Genders held regular prayer-meetings, taught Sunday School, counselled neighbours and was a life member of the Girls' Friendly Society. Setting off for the bus at 7.30 most mornings, she was 'a quick stepping . . . figure, no more than 5 feet [153 cm] tall, grey frock and cape, and small black hat and veil, a string bag containing books and magazines in her hand. She greeted everyone with a smile and a cheery wave'. At home she taught her budgerigar to recite 'The Lord's Prayer'.

In the 1950s Genders was attached to St Luke's, Cottesloe. Despite some local resistance, she bought the house next to her cottage for destitute people; the sparsely furnished rooms invariably contained a cupboard full of tinned food. She cooked the evening meal, occasionally entertained friends and had a small chapel built on to the front of her own home. The 'tiny woman with a big heart' was appointed M.B.E. in 1970. Genders retired to Meath House, Trigg. She died on 27 August 1978 at the Home of Peace, Subiaco, and was cremated. The Genders' Library at Meath House, the Genders' room at Wollaston College, Mount Claremont, and the Dorothy Genders' Retirement Village, Mosman Park, commemorate her.

Select Bibliography

  • Deaconess (Sydney), 15 Feb 1927
  • Cathedral Notes (Perth), Sept 1933
  • Western Australian Church News, 46, no 4, 1948
  • Anglican Messenger (Perth), Oct 1978
  • Examiner (Launceston), 11 Jan 1901
  • West Australian, 2 Sept 1978
  • notebooks and newsclippings (privately held).

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Genders, Dorothy Edna (1892–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 August 2019.

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

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2019

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Dorothy, Sister

27 July 1892
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia


27 August 1978
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Religious Influence