Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kathleen Mary (Kate) Burrow (1899–1987)

by Marianne Payten

This article was published:

Kathleen Mary (Kate) Burrow (1899-1987), educator and community leader, was born on 18 April 1899 at Mudgee, New South Wales, elder daughter of English-born Elijah Richard William Graham, mining engineer, and his wife Catherine Mary, née Ray, who was born in New South Wales. From their dirt-floored cottage at the goldfield at Clarkes Creek, Kate attended the one-teacher Windeyer Public School, and then boarded at St Matthew’s Convent of Mercy School, Mudgee. Sponsored by the parish priest, she attended the University of Sydney (BA, 1922; Dip.Soc.Stud., 1944). A founding member of the University Catholic Women’s Association, she was also a committee member of the Newman Association of Catholic Graduates. On 17 January 1925 she married Kenney William Noel Burrow (d.1954), a librarian, at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Mudgee.

While teaching physical culture at North Sydney Girls’ High School, she had undertaken voluntary work setting up physical education in Catholic orphanage schools. In 1926, with her sister Anne, who had trained in the United States of America, she founded the Graham-Burrow School of Physical Education, which provided exercise, deportment and dancing classes in Catholic schools throughout Australia for forty years. They organised St Patrick’s Day sports, events for visiting dignitaries and celebrations such as the `Living Rosary’ display at the Sydney Showground for the Commonwealth Jubilee in 1951, all of which involved thousands of children. She completed a massage certificate (Dip. APA, 1936), and was a registered physiotherapist (1947-85) and, before 1950, a member of the Physiotherapists Registration Board.

Through her lucrative, wide-ranging business, Mrs Burrow moved to leadership in public life. President of the Legion of Catholic Women, Archdiocese of Sydney (1949-59), and of the Australian Council of Catholic Women (1957-59), she was the Australian representative (1957-65) on the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations. Diplomatically mollifying the male hierarchy, she extended the influence of Catholic women’s groups, initiating lasting co-operation with other religions and organisations concerned with justice, human rights, women’s issues, migration, media and education. She served as international secretary (1954-60) and convenor for the mass media (1976-82) of the Australian National Council of Women (National Council of Women of Australia) and president (1969-72) of the Pan-Pacific and South East Asia Women’s Association of Australia. Supportive of the State division of the United Nations Association of Australia for thirty years, she was chairman of its United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization standing committee and a member of its executive committee. She travelled extensively, representing these organisations at international conferences.

A substantial figure, about 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, Mrs Burrow was a commanding presence. She was a charming hostess in her Ashfield home, a caring mentor, a highly principled and forthright advocate and a superb communicator and organiser who `promoted social harmony often among divergent groups’. She was appointed MBE in 1956, awarded the Papal Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice in 1977 and the United Nations peace medal in 1976 and 1986. Survived by her daughter and one of her two sons, she died on 20 May 1987 at Croydon. Following her funeral at St Vincent’s Catholic Church, Ashfield, she was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Carey, Truly Feminine, Truly Catholic (1987)
  • Catholic Weekly, 24 Feb 1949, p 21, 1 July 1987, p 24
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Apr 1962, p 21, 17 July 1963, p 15, 10 Feb 1976, p 8, 25 May 1987, p 7
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 27 May 1962, p 90
  • private information.

Citation details

Marianne Payten, 'Burrow, Kathleen Mary (Kate) (1899–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Graham, Kathleen

18 April, 1899
Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia


20 May, 1987 (aged 88)
Croydon, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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