Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Elizabeth Julia Reid (1915–1974)

by Hilary M. Carey

This article was published:

Elizabeth Julia Reid (1915-1974), Grail worker and journalist, was born on 24 February 1915 at Waverley, Sydney, second of three children of John Francis Reid, journalist, and his wife Annie Catherine, née Phibbs, both born in New South Wales. Sir George Reid was her great-uncle and she later commented that his generation of Reids included 'an explorer, a parson, a prime minister, and a Poor Clare nun'. Elizabeth was educated at Lourdes Hill convent school, Hawthorne, Brisbane. Influenced by her father's ideas, she wrote letters to local newspapers decrying the injustice of the White Australia policy. She trained (until 1938) as a nurse at Brisbane General Hospital before travelling to Sydney to study with The Grail, an organization for Catholic laywomen who 'wished to play a greater role in the world'.

Accepted as a member of the Grail Nucleus, Reid moved to Melbourne in August 1939. She helped to build up the movement, taught courses in major Australian cities, edited Torchlight—the magazine of the National Catholic Girls' Movement—and instructed leaders of the N.C.G.M.'s Vanguard groups (for girls aged 14 to 18 years). In 1948 she was sent to work in Hong Kong. Her main function was to edit and produce the weekly diocesan newspaper, Sunday Examiner. She also trained a group of student journalists, established a Grail centre to promote the welfare of women and girls, and assisted refugees, particularly Catholics entering Hong Kong from the People's Republic of China. Her experiences strengthened her strong antipathy to communism.

Reid travelled regularly for the Sunday Examiner, covering stories in Macao, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaya, Singapore and Indonesia. She visited Australia for Christmas 1955 and reported on Aboriginal missions. Skilled in the use of a camera, she filed photographs and stories with the National Catholic Wire Service in the United States of America, reporting on the exchange of prisoners of war in Korea in 1953, the siege of Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam, in 1954, and the conference of Asian and African countries, held at Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955.

In 1956 Reid moved to New York to take up an assignment with the International Movement for the Fraternal Union of All Races and Peoples, a Catholic aid organization which was consulted by the United Nations. She endeavoured to ensure that a Catholic voice was heard at the U.N. on issues relating to human rights, the family, forced labour, the status of women, and freedom of education. As an accredited correspondent at U.N. headquarters in 1958-66, she continued to be active as a journalist.

From 1960 Reid worked in Africa, teaching journalism and establishing Grail self-help projects for women in Ghana, Tanganyika (Tanzania), Uganda, Botswana and South Africa. At the request of the Catholic bishops of Africa, she provided training for women whose husbands were about to be posted to Western countries as diplomats or were being groomed for civic leadership. By 1966 she was based in New Delhi as executive-secretary of Action for Food Production, an umbrella organization for church- and government-funded assistance projects. She managed a budget that ran to millions of dollars: it was directed towards agricultural projects and training. One of her undertakings was the Grail Mobile Extension Training Unit which instructed villagers in various parts of India. Believing that 'the primary function' of aid was 'development, rather than relief and charity', she described herself as a 'bridge person' who came when she was needed and moved on once local people had been trained to take over.

In her prime Reid was an attractive woman with a broad smile and dark hair plainly styled in a no-nonsense manner. Later in life she became rather plump. Practical and cheerful, she was a committed advocate for many causes. Her autobiography, I Belong Where I'm Needed (Westminster, Maryland, U.S.A., 1961), not only gave an account of her life but also invited young Catholic women to join in her enthusiasms.

Although increasingly a citizen of the world, Reid remained in close touch with her family and Grail friends in Australia. Each day she read the Australian news at the High Commission in New Delhi. Writing to her sister Joan in November 1974, she described Prime Minister Gough Whitlam as 'a pain', and the purchase of the painting, 'Blue Poles', for the Australian National Gallery, as wasteful. In December 1974, knowing that she was soon to die of cancer, she visited Goa, the place of enshrinement of St Francis Xavier, to pray for a miracle. When she failed to recover, she asked to be taken to the Tiltenberg, the International Grail Centre, near Haarlem, the Netherlands. She died on 23 December 1974 at The Hague and was buried in the grounds of the Tiltenberg. Archbishop Angelo Fernandez of New Delhi called her 'a great and effective communicator of development, justice and peace'.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Kennedy, Faith and Feminism (Syd, 1985)
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 23 Jan 1975
  • Reid papers and correspondence (The Grail archives, North Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Hilary M. Carey, 'Reid, Elizabeth Julia (1915–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 February, 1915
Waverley, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


23 December, 1974 (aged 59)
The Hague, Netherlands

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.