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Eleanor Vokes MacKinnon (1871–1936)

by Jacqueline Abbott

This article was published:

Eleanor MacKinnon, n.d.

Eleanor MacKinnon, n.d.

photo supplied by the Addison family

Eleanor Vokes Irby MacKinnon (1871-1936), Red Cross leader, was born on 8 February 1871 at Tenterfield, New South Wales, only daughter and sixth of thirteen children of Glentworth Walsh Fraser Addison, police magistrate, and his Sydney-born wife Ellen, née Campbell. Her father, from Manchester, England, was directly descended from Joseph Addison, the essayist. The family moved to Sydney in 1882 and Eleanor attended the Clergy Daughters' School, Waverley, and Sydney Girls' High School with Louise Mack and Ethel Turner. On 16 September 1896 at Paddington she married with Presbyterian forms Roger Robert Steel MacKinnon (d.1935), physician. They lived at Warialda where their two sons were born.

Settling at North Sydney in 1903, Eleanor studied painting under Lister Lister and wrote verse, but soon became involved in charitable and political activities. A life-member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, she was first president of King Edward's Dogs' Home. In 1909 she succeeded Mrs Molyneux Parkes as president of the Women's Liberal (Reform) League of New South Wales. She was on the board of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children and the committee of the Bush Book Club.

On 11 August 1914 Eleanor MacKinnon became foundation honorary secretary to the State division of the Australian branch of the British Red Cross Society; she was a member of the State executive and finance committees and a delegate to the central council until her death. Conceiving 'the idea of using the idealism and generosity of young people to relieve suffering and distress', she founded the world's first Junior Red Cross division, provided its motto, 'The Child for the Child', and was honorary director until 1935. By 1918 the movement was established in fifty-two countries. She was a member of the State council for Voluntary Aid Detachments; director of the Red Cross Produce Depot; honorary publicity officer; and a house committee-member of Graythwaite Convalescent Home, North Sydney. She founded (and edited for twenty-one years) the Red Cross Record in December 1914 and the Junior Red Cross Record in 1918, and compiled the Red Cross Knitting and Cookery books.

President of 17th Battalion Comforts Fund and founder and co-editor of the War Workers' Gazette, she worked for the Citizens' War Chest. In 1916 she became a vice-president and executive member of the National Association of New South Wales, the National Council and the National Women's Club (later holding similar positions in the United Australia Party). An 'eloquent and forceful' platform speaker, in the 1920s she occasionally broadcast on politics.

Appointed O.B.E. in 1918, next year Mrs MacKinnon raised funds for the Peace Loan. During the pneumonic influenza epidemic she helped to organize emergency hospitals and as honorary director oversaw the whole nursing service. Anxious about servicemen's children, particularly those suffering from tuberculosis, Mrs MacKinnon obtained for their use two houses in the Blue Mountains and one by the sea at Ramsgate, which were used as 'preventoria' as well as sanitoria. In 1925-26 she worked tirelessly to reconstruct the Red Cross, touring the country to form new branches, and to divert it to peacetime activities and to the care of civilians.

In 1924-29 she was a government representative on the Senate of the University of Sydney. She gave the proceeds of her slender volume of verse, The Golden Land (1924), to the university's 'Memorial Carillon' fund. A substitute delegate to the sixth general assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva, Switzerland, in 1925, she was invited to speak from the tribune for her work in helping to found the Australasian Armenian Relief Fund in 1922. She also visited the headquarters of the League of Red Cross Societies in Paris.

In 1929 Mrs MacKinnon was appointed to the first Hospitals Commission of New South Wales. She helped to form many hospital auxiliaries, convened three large conferences of hospital matrons in Sydney and arranged regular regional conferences in the country. She was also responsible for publicity and promoted immunization against diphtheria. Long an admirer of Sister Elizabeth Kenny, in 1934 she helped to set up her clinic for poliomyelitis cases at Townsville, Queensland. Mrs MacKinnon was awarded King George V's Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935. Survived by her sons, she died on 31 January 1936 in Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Junior Red Cross Record, 1 Mar 1936
  • Red Cross Record (New South Wales), 1 Mar, 1 Apr 1936
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 24 Feb 1915
  • Australian National Review, 17 July 1925, 26 May 1927
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 31 Jan, 1 Feb 1936, 15 Mar 1973.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Jacqueline Abbott, 'MacKinnon, Eleanor Vokes (1871–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Eleanor MacKinnon, n.d.

Eleanor MacKinnon, n.d.

photo supplied by the Addison family

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Addison, Eleanor Vokes

8 February, 1871
Tenterfield, New South Wales, Australia


31 January, 1936 (aged 64)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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