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Florinda Katharine Ogilvie (1902–1983)

by John Lawrence

This article was published:

Florinda Katharine Ogilvie (1902-1983), social worker and educator, was born on 12 January 1902 at Glen Innes, New South Wales, fifth of six children of Sydney-born William Frederick Ogilvie, grazier, and his Queensland-born wife Ethel Maude, née Mylne. Kate was educated at Gosford School for Girls and, in 1918-19, at Frensham, Mittagong. Noted for her energy and enthusiasm, she was a prefect, a member of Frensham’s first hockey and cricket teams and the conductor of a madrigal choir. Later (1934-41) she was a member of the school council. Resident in Women’s College, University of Sydney (BA, 1924), she graduated with an honours degree in history. She served on the Women’s College council (1934-49, 1956-68) and on the university Senate (1943-49). Fluent in French, in 1924 she travelled in Europe.

In 1926 Ogilvie became secretary (executive officer) of the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children. She was president of the Sydney University Women’s Sports Association in 1927-30. Actively supporting hockey as a coach, umpire and administrator, she chaired (1926-31, 1935-39) the All Australia Women’s Hockey Association. In 1930, as a delegate to the International Federation of Women’s Hockey Associations (vice-president 1933-48), she accompanied the Australian women’s hockey team on its inaugural overseas tour. While visiting hospitals in England, she was attracted to almoner (medical social) work. Returning there for fifteen months in 1933-34, she obtained the associate certificate of the British Institute of Hospital Almoners.

Following a period (1934-41) as almoner at Rachel Forster Hospital, in 1941-54 Ogilvie worked as senior almoner at Sydney Hospital and director of training of the New South Wales Institute of Hospital Almoners. In 1936 she had played a key role in establishing the institute, against the wishes of Aileen Fitzpatrick, the director of the Board of Social Study and Training of New South Wales. The poor standard of the board’s training course was the main issue. Promoting medical social work both locally and nationally, Ogilvie was founding president (1942-46) of the Australian Association of Hospital Almoners.

Ogilvie was appointed MBE in 1937, partly for her contribution to the New South Wales Housing Improvement Board. In 1940, on leave from the hospital for six months, she was honorary director of the Family Welfare Bureau of the Lord Mayor’s Patriotic and War Fund; on behalf of the State division of the Australian Comforts Fund she established a professional social work service for members of the fighting forces and their dependents. As an honorary consultant and member of the national social welfare committee of the Australian Red Cross Society, she helped to provide trained social workers in military hospitals and Red Cross centres during the war. She was a member (1941-50) of the Child Welfare Advisory Council.

In 1950-51 Ogilvie spent six months in England studying methods of teaching social work, as well as rehabilitation services for physically handicapped people and services for the aged. Vice-president (1946-52, 1959-74), president (1952-59) and chairman of the research committee of the Council of Social Service of New South Wales, she was elected an honorary member of the council in 1966. She worked to establish the Old People’s Welfare Council of New South Wales in 1957. Many other organisations—the New South Wales State Cancer Council, the Association of Sheltered Workshops and the National Heart Foundation of Australia—benefited from her involvement.

Ogilvie was a lecturer in medical social work at the University of Sydney from 1954 to 1965. In a rare contribution to the embryonic professional literature, in 1957 she wrote on ‘Integration of Class Room and Field Work Teaching’ for the conference of the social workers’ professional association. Her concluding Robert Browning quotation—’A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or, what’s a heaven for?’—typified her attitude to her chosen profession. Her students testified to the strong impact of her teaching; she was noted for her skills in casework practice.

Known affectionately as ‘Battleship Kate’, Ogilvie was a formidable champion of the many causes she espoused. Her sometimes domineering, stubborn ways could be exasperating. Yet with clients she was sensitive, perceptive and caring and never lost her temper, however much she was provoked. She made lasting friendships and her many serious endeavours were leavened by a great sense of humour. A colleague, Norma Parker, described her as ‘our most outstanding pioneer in social work in New South Wales’. Miss Ogilvie died on 27 January 1983 at Darlinghurst and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. J. Lawrence, Professional Social Work in Australia (1965)
  • Katharine Ogilvie (1965?)
  • E. Browne, Tradition and Change: Hospital Social Work in NSW (1996)
  • Australian Social Work, vol 36, no 2, 1983, p 3, vol 57, no 3, 2004, p 217
  • Ogilvie papers (University of Sydney archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Lawrence, 'Ogilvie, Florinda Katharine (1902–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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