Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

Rogers, Mary Catherine (1872–1932)

by Chris Cunneen and Kim Torney

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Mary Catherine Rogers (1872-1932), community and political worker, was born on 2 August 1872 in Melbourne, fifth child of Irish-born parents John Skeahan, a labourer and later a produce dealer, and his wife Margaret, née Welsh. Brought up at East Richmond, Mary attended a local Catholic school. On 28 November 1900 at St Ignatius's Catholic Church, Richmond, she married Patrick Denis Rogers, an upholsterer. Their five children were born between 1901 and 1909; one died in infancy. Patrick, a stalwart of the Working Men's College, sometime president of the Furniture Trades Union and a committee-member for the eight-hour day celebration, died in 1910. While rearing her children, Mary was employed as a cleaner and became active in the Australian Labor Party and in community welfare work.

Appointed secretary (later president) of the Women Office Cleaners' Union, then vice-president of the Miscellaneous Workers' Union, Rogers became organizer for the Victorian branch of the A.L.P. in 1918. She was secretary of the party's North Richmond branch for several years, and a member of the Richmond Benevolent Society. On 5 November 1920 she was elected to Richmond City Council at a by-election, becoming the first woman councillor in Victoria, and the second in Australia (after Susan Benny). That year she was appointed to a board of enquiry into neglected children. Her aim was to improve the sanitary and living conditions of the poor at Richmond. She also worked to have baby clinics established and for municipal control of the milk supply. In 1922 she was re-elected unopposed. At a Yarra Bank public meeting in April 1924, Rogers protested against the government's decision to execute the convicted murderer Angus Murray. She was a member of the council's finance and legislative committee in 1925, but was defeated in municipal elections in August. Among the first women to be appointed justices of the peace in Victoria—in February 1927—she was a special magistrate at the Children's Court at Richmond.

At the Trades Hall Council in July 1923, with Mrs Nelle Rickie, Rogers had moved a resolution calling for equal pay for the sexes. Sometime president of the Labor Women's Organizing Committee, from 1925 to 1932 she was its active and energetic secretary. For two years she was a member of the central executive of the Victorian branch of the A.L.P. In addition, she was honorary secretary of the Richmond auxiliary of St Vincent's Hospital, a member of the State's Central Unemployment Relief Committee and of the royal commission on children's welfare, vice-president of the Victorian Baby Health Centres, a member of the board of the Heatherton Sanitorium and of the council of the Richmond Technical School, secretary of the welfare committee of the Catholic Women's Social Guild and president of the Carmel crèche.

It was said of Rogers that she 'worked on countless committees to countless beneficent ends' and showed 'force of character, devotion to principle, and great organising ability'. She died of cancer on 25 September 1932 at Richmond. Three daughters and one son survived her. At her burial in Boroondara cemetery, Kew, with Catholic rites, trades union and Labor officials were prominent and Arthur Calwell was a pallbearer.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Fraser and N. Palmer (eds), Centenary Gift Book (Melb, 1934)
  • B. Walker, Solidarity Forever! (Melb, 1972)
  • A. V. Smith, Women in Australian Parliaments and Local Governments (Syd, 1975)
  • K. Daniels et al, Women in Australia, vol 2 (Canb, 1977)
  • Richmond Australian, 3 Sept 1910, p 3
  • Argus (Melbourne), 6 Nov 1920, p 18, 16 Feb 1927, p 21, 26 Sept 1932, p 1, 28 Sept 1932, p 6
  • Lone Hand, 1 Dec 1920, p 29
  • Melbourne Punch, 2 Dec 1920, p 2
  • Sun-News Pictorial (Melbourne), 13 Sept 1922, p 10
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 29 Sept 1932, p 15
  • Richmond, Hawthorn and Camberwell Weekly, 30 Sept 1932, p 3
  • Richmond Guardian, 1 Oct 1932, p 2
  • Australian Worker, 5 Oct 1932, p 1
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen and Kim Torney, 'Rogers, Mary Catherine (1872–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rogers-mary-catherine-13173/text23845, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 25 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014