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McEwan, Kathleen Agnes Rose (Kitty) (1894–1969)

by Sue Hardisty

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Kathleen Agnes Rose (Kitty) McEwan (1894-1969), sports journalist, golfer and war-worker, was born on 15 March 1894 at Surrey Hills, Melbourne, second surviving child of Victorian-born parents John McEwan, land agent, and his wife Mary Maria ('Minnie'), née Fowler. Kitty was educated locally at Ormiston Ladies' College and developed a lifelong passion for golf. An associate-member of the Commonwealth and Riversdale golf clubs, she was Commonwealth club champion (1925-26) and captain (1926). At Riversdale she won the club trophy (1933) and once hit a hole in one. With her friend Edna Hope McLean, she visited Britain for six months in 1934. McEwan had worked (from 1929) as a freelance journalist on Australian Home Beautiful. She then began writing, mainly on women and golf, for the Radiator (1937) and the Sun News-Pictorial (from 1938). Five ft 4½ ins (164 cm) tall, well built, with blue-grey eyes and light reddish hair, she was public-minded, energetic and 'too modest to report her own golfing wins'.

During World War II McEwan organized fund-raising for patriotic appeals before she was appointed (June 1942) superintendent in Victoria of the Australian Women's Land Army—a national scheme for recruiting, training and placing women in rural work to redress the labour crisis. She was fully aware that—as a civilian force with less attractive conditions than those in the women's services—the A.W.L.A. could never successfully compete for recruits.

None the less, McEwan was genuinely concerned for the welfare of 'land girls' and tried to improve their lot. She continually lobbied the government to provide basic supplies, especially adequate clothing for wet and cold conditions; she also negotiated with employers, withdrew the land girls when accommodation was substandard, and supported a successful case before the Women's Employment Board for improved conditions in the flax industry. In addition, she liaised with voluntary groups to improve amenities, such as providing a mobile canteen. The deputy-director of manpower, who often deferred to her expertise, commented on her 'wise and tolerant leadership and her knowledge of rural problems'.

After being demobilized in March 1946, McEwan wrote for the Sun under her own name until her retirement in 1966. She encouraged women (regardless of age) to play sport, and fought for the regular inclusion of women's sporting results in the press. With wide and varied interests, she collected rare books, and served as honorary publicity officer and an executive-member of the National Council of Women of Victoria (c.1956-69) and as a councillor (1953-67) of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.

Kitty McEwan lived in the family home at Surrey Hills. She died on 17 August 1969 at Camberwell and was buried with Presbyterian forms in the Anglican section of Box Hill cemetery. One of her last public gestures was to agree to chair the sportswomen's committee for the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital's forthcoming (1970) building appeal. She is commemorated by the Kitty McEwan trophy at Barwon Heads Golf Club and by an award for the sportswoman of the year which was established from her bequest by the Women's Amateur Sports Council in 1974.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Hardisty (ed), Thanks Girls and Goodbye (Melb, 1990)
  • Australia Home Beautiful, 7, nos 1-6 1929
  • Radiator (Melbourne), June 1937-Dec 1940
  • Victorian Historical Magazine, 38, no 2, May 1967
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 3 Mar 1942, 29 Mar 1946, 19 Aug 1969
  • Herald (Melbourne), 18 Aug 1969
  • AWLA B551/0 1943/110/4796 parts 1 and 2 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Sue Hardisty, 'McEwan, Kathleen Agnes Rose (Kitty) (1894–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcewan-kathleen-agnes-rose-kitty-10947/text19453, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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