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McGregor, Katharine Elizabeth (1903–1979)

by Catherine Kenny

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

Katharine Elizabeth McGregor (1903-1979), lawyer, was born on 16 May 1903 in South Brisbane, second of three children of Queensland-born parents John George McGregor, solicitor, and his wife Katharine Elizabeth, née Ferguson. Her 7-year-old brother Ian was killed when he was struck by a tram in 1909. Katharine and her sister received a strict and conservative upbringing. Their father, whose firm acted (from 1893) for the Presbyterian Church, instilled in them a keen interest in their Scottish forebears. Educated at Brisbane Girls' Grammar School, Katharine was awarded the languages prize in 1917, 1918 and 1919. In her final year she came second in the class and won an open scholarship to the University of Queensland (B.A., 1923; M.A., 1925).

There she studied classics in the honours school, with Miriam Jones and Cecil McDonnell. A nervous, softly spoken young woman, McGregor avoided university social life and spent most of her time with her family, reading and studying. She graduated with first-class honours, completed a thesis on 'The Island of Samos' for her masterate, and served as honorary secretary of the short-lived Queensland Classical Society.

Persuaded by her father to carry on the family's legal tradition, McGregor sat the Barristers' Board examinations. On 1 October 1926 she was admitted as a solicitor by the Supreme Court of Queensland; on 5 October she became the first woman in the State to be admitted as a barrister. One newspaper report described her as 'a good looking girl, without the dowdiness and plainness associated with a blue stocking's career. She has been a constant attendant at Court, getting atmosphere and experience'. Another observed that she 'looked a picturesque figure in the traditional wig and gown'.

Miss McGregor joined her father's firm, practised as a solicitor and was soon a partner in McGregor, McGregor, Given & Capner. In September 1935 she set up on her own. From March 1939 Queensland lawyers were required to choose whether they wished to be enrolled as solicitors or barristers. Although Katharine wrote to the Queensland Law Society on 31 March stating that she wanted to remain a barrister, she worked for the rest of her life as a private tutor in Greek and Latin, and as an examiner in classics at secondary and tertiary levels.

Since 1928 McGregor had looked after her widowed mother. The two women were avid readers. Katharine accepted this quiet existence and rejected any increase in her teaching commitments. According to one informant, she found a measure of contentment in home-making, gardening and needlework. McGregor died on 25 June 1979 at Mount Olivet Hospital, Kangaroo Point, and was cremated with Anglican rites. In 1980 several of her friends donated $6000 to the University of Queensland's department of classics and ancient history to commemorate her by a postgraduate scholarship and a prize for introductory Greek or Latin.

Select Bibliography

  • Brisbane Girls' Grammar School Magazine, June 1921, June 1923, Dec 1927
  • Brisbane Girls' Grammar School, Annual Report, 1917-19
  • University of Queensland, University News, 8 Apr 1981, p 6
  • Queenslander, 17 Mar 1923, 16 Oct 1926, 31 May 1928
  • K. E. McGregor scrapbooks (University of Queensland Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

Catherine Kenny, 'McGregor, Katharine Elizabeth (1903–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcgregor-katharine-elizabeth-10962/text19483, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 November 2018.

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

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