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Kathleen Alice Syme (1896–1977)

by Carolyn Rasmussen

This article was published:

Kathleen Alice Syme (1896-1977), journalist, company director and welfare worker, was born on 15 February 1896 at Lilydale, Victoria, eldest of four daughters of Arthur Edward Syme, physician and surgeon, and his wife Amy, née Horne, both Victorian born. Educated at Lauriston Girls' School and the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1919; M.A., 1921; LL.B., 1923), Kathleen became in turn a journalist and editor with the Age, founded by her grandfather David Syme. In 1943 she retired from editing to take her father's place as a trustee of the David Syme and the David Syme Charitable trusts (she chaired both from 1967). She became a director of David Syme & Co. Ltd in 1948. Regarded with respect and affection by the staff of the Age, she remained an active member of the board until 1971.

To the end of her life Miss Syme was proud to call herself a journalist, but she devoted her later years to institutions catering for the welfare of others, principally women. While she was an undergraduate she had signed a petition calling for a residential college for female students. Her 'persuasive advocacy' helped make University Women's College a reality two decades later. As a member of its council in 1943-74 and president in 1947-54, she gained the committee experience that was to underpin her second career. She was also a foundation member of the Victorian Women Graduates' Association, which named (1967) a research scholarship after her in acknowledgement of her endeavours to advance educational opportunities for women.

Syme had joined the board of the (Royal) Women's Hospital in 1949 and served as president in 1956-59. In addition, she was a trustee of the Vera Scantlebury Brown Child Welfare Memorial Trust, a body which provided money to enable doctors, nurses and welfare workers to study overseas. Attracted by the idea of helping people at every stage of life, 'from their infancy to their twilight', she next turned her attention to the elderly. She joined the board of Greenvale Village for the Aged on its inception in 1954 and held office as vice-president in 1961-75. An 'astute and effective executive', she believed that the voluntary committees on which she served represented 'nearly every human value that is worth while'. She was appointed O.B.E. in 1968.

A handsome, stylish woman who remained 'young in outlook', Syme maintained a close association with her nieces and nephews, and their families. She loved literature, the theatre and ballet. In 1952-54 she was president of the Lyceum Club. Another of her pleasures was breeding and racing horses. It was a passion and talent she had inherited from her father. Her thoroughbred mares, kept on a property near Dandenong, produced a number of successful hunters and racehorses, including Conservatory, Williamstown and Good Prince. She died on 3 September 1977 in East Melbourne and was cremated with Anglican rites. Her estate was sworn for probate at $634,002. The education centre at the Royal Women's Hospital was named after her.

Select Bibliography

  • Your Hospitals, 1, no 6, Dec 1964
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 June 1968, 16 Feb 1971, 5, 6 Sept 1977
  • Australian, 5-6 Nov 1983
  • private information.

Citation details

Carolyn Rasmussen, 'Syme, Kathleen Alice (1896–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 June 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]


15 February, 1896
Lilydale, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


3 September, 1977 (aged 81)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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.