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Sara Susan Nolan (1843–1927)

by Ian Tyrrell

This article was published:

Sara Nolan, n.d.

Sara Nolan, n.d.

Sara Susan Nolan (1843-1927), temperance reformer, was born on Christmas Day 1843 at Deansgate, Manchester, England, daughter of Thomas Holme, shoe-dealer, and his wife Mary, née Davies. With them, she migrated to New South Wales in 1849. Little is known of her early life: on 15 March 1864 she married James Adams Nolan (d.1904), a young Methodist minister, at Shoalhaven. Mrs Nolan bore fourteen children, and followed her husband through a succession of clerical charges which took her to Brisbane in 1885.

There she joined the newly formed Woman's Christian Temperance Union, strongly supported by her husband. The Nolans returned to Sydney in 1892; Sara was soon installed as colonial superintendent of legislation for the New South Wales union and in 1893 effortlessly succeeded Euphemia Bowes as president. It was doubtless an advantage that she bore a striking resemblance to Frances Willard, the movement's much-worshipped world's president, whom she was also said to resemble in her fearless devotion to principle. Although total prohibition of alcohol was the aim of the W.C.T.U., she pushed strongly for local option as a temporary measure. She strongly advocated female suffrage, but shrank, horrified, from the thought of women actually entering parliament; she stressed that women wished to vote in order to extend their moral influence and to elect 'good men'.

The death of her husband in 1904 and permanent residence at Strathfield gave Mrs Nolan the chance for broader service: in 1906-12 she was elected Australian president. Her increased work-load caused her to resign as State president in 1907, although she remained a vice-president. In 1910 she represented Australia at the World's W.C.T.U.'s convention at Glasgow, Scotland, and conducted mission services in Egypt and Ceylon. She retired from active leadership of the W.C.T.U. in 1912, but remained on the executives of the National Council of Women of New South Wales (honorary life vice-president from 1918) and the Australasian League of Honour for Women and Girls, and was vice-president of the Dalmar Children's Homes at Croydon (later at Carlingford). Sara Nolan died on 6 March 1927 at Burwood and was buried in the Methodist section of Rookwood cemetery. Five sons and two daughters survived her.

Sara Nolan had begun her public life as a shy and retiring housewife in 1885; by 1912 she was noted for her commanding platform presence and her well-researched and often witty speeches. The union had become for her, as for so many others, a means of self-improvement and self-culture. Her uncomplaining acceptance of her home duties, with scant domestic help, and public service typifies the life of the middle-class, Christian reformer among women of her time.

Select Bibliography

  • Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem, vol 5 (Westerville, Ohio, 1924-30)
  • White Ribbon Signal (Melbourne), 1 June 1894, 12 Mar 1927
  • Town and Country Journal, 31 Mar 1894, 22 July 1908
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Mar 1927
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 21 Sept 1895, 19 Apr 1904, 30 June 1915
  • Nolan speeches and biography references, WCTU album, WCTU records (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Ian Tyrrell, 'Nolan, Sara Susan (1843–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Sara Nolan, n.d.

Sara Nolan, n.d.

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Holme, Sara Susan

25 December, 1843
Manchester, Greater Manchester, England


6 March, 1927 (aged 83)
Burwood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.