Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gertrude Mary Zichy-Woinarski (1874–1955)

by Janine Bush

This article was published:

Gertrude Mary Zichy-Woinarski (1874-1955), community welfare worker, was born on 2 March 1874 at Ballarat, Victoria, sixth child of English-born parents Henry Brind, chemist, and his wife Hester Barnet, née Goodfellow. On 17 April 1895 at Christ Church Cathedral, Ballarat, Gertrude married with Anglican rites Victorian-born Victor Joseph Emanuel Zichy-Woinarski, a physician and surgeon of Hungarian and Polish descent. They had four children.

Elected a member of the Melbourne Ladies' Benevolent Society when aged 26, Gertrude became a 'district visitor' and worked for many years in North Melbourne. In August 1913 she was elected a vice-president of the society. Following the death of a son in 1919 and of her husband in 1921, she assumed an increasingly prominent and active role in the M.L.B.S. and from June 1926 was honorary secretary. Politicians, parliamentary committees and the Australian Broadcasting Commission frequently sought her opinion on social welfare issues. In 1929 the former premier G. M. Prendergast praised her 'immense service' and claimed: 'This lady can be fully trusted and the workers have confidence in her'.

Her involvement with the benevolent society coincided with a period of modernization of social welfare. Despite being politically conservative, in a time of changes in practice and ideology during the 1930s Zichy-Woinarski demonstrated her willingness to work towards ideals associated with modern welfare. She represented the M.L.B.S. on the committee that in 1929 formed the Victorian Institution of Almoners. That year she helped to form the Central Council of Victorian Benevolent Societies, of which she became secretary. In 1930 she was asked by Jessie Henderson and Stanley Greig Smith to assist in the development of a movement to assist unemployed and homeless girls.

During the Depression, Zichy-Woinarski was involved with the State Relief Committee and in 1933 became secretary of the Melbourne Public Assistance Committee, which distributed government sustenance payments. From 1939 she was secretary of the Victorian Association of Benevolent Societies, which amalgamated with the Central Council of Benevolent Societies. In 1942 she was approached to serve on the advisory board of women on the Evacuation Committee, established by the government to research and plan the co-ordination of children's evacuation during World War II.

Zichy-Woinarski worked with journalist Edith Abbott to write Women Who Helped Pioneers (Melbourne, 1945), a history of the M.L.B.S. Late in 1945, having resigned from her various roles as secretary, she threw herself into other causes. Despite suffering a heart attack next year, she took little leave from her work and was determined to establish a home for older homeless women. Her commitment helped to establish in 1948 Ravenswood, which became a major focus of the benevolent society beyond the 1950s when its role in welfare provision changed dramatically.

Having received King George V's jubilee medal (1935), in 1954 Zichy-Woinarski was appointed M.B.E. She continued attending meetings of the benevolent society up until her death on 4 November 1955 in hospital at Mordialloc. She was cremated. Two sons and one daughter Beryl Asche, who was also an office-holder in the M.L.B.S., survived her. Gertrude's daughter-in-law Elsie Zichy-Woinarski, a trained hospital almoner, was also active on the society's committee.

Select Bibliography

  • Melbourne Ladies’ Benevolent Society, Annual Report, 1920-39
  • J. Bush, Crisis of Moral Authority: The Ladies Benevolent Societies in the Victorian Welfare Field, 1920-1939 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 2002)
  • Melbourne Ladies’ Benevolent Society, minutes, 1900-56 (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Janine Bush, 'Zichy-Woinarski, Gertrude Mary (1874–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Brind, Gertrude

2 March, 1874
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


4 November, 1955 (aged 81)
Mordialloc, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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