Woman Blackall, Alice Kate
- Social Worker and Teacher
Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University
Alice Kate Blackall was born in Prahran in 1894, to Michael Francis Blackall and Bridget Flora Hegarty. In the 1920s she completed a Bachelor of Arts at Melbourne University then worked as a secondary school teacher for approximately ten years mostly in Victoria but also for a period in India.
In Melbourne she joined the Catholic Women's Social Guild (CWSG) a feminist organisation encouraging Catholic lay women to become publicly active and work towards equal rights for women whose members included Norma Parker and other social workers (Kennedy, 1985 in McMahon, 2003; Gleeson, 2006, p. 175). She was a member of the CWSG central organizing committee for three years and secretary for one year, and was influential in its modernisation. From 1921-1925 Blackall was the manager of the CWSG journal, Horizon, using 'strongly worded editorials' to ' lament the 'apathy' of young Catholic women towards social work' (Gleeson, 2006, p.175). In 1924 she publicly commented on the need for an organisation that would recruit Catholic social workers, which, she believed, were needed to reform Catholic and State welfare institutions for children. However in the following year she resigned in to embark on the Australasian National Pilgimage to Lourdes (Horizon, 1 April, 1925, volume 14, no 16, pp. 1-2).
In 1936 Blackall was one of the founding members of the Victorian Branch of the St Joan's Social and Political Alliance established to campaign for women's equality (Gleeson, 2006, p. 17). One year later she enrolled in the social work course offered by the Victorian Board of Social Studies (VBSS), completing her diploma in 1939. She had strong female mentors in Norma Parker, Constance Moffit and Teresa Wardell and worked with them to reform Catholic welfare practice, particularly around the institutionalization of children. (Gleeson, 2006). When Sydney's Catholic Welfare Bureau opened in March 1941, Blackall was its first social worker (Gleeson, 2006, p. 175). Here she was able to pioneer a new service that aimed to support children and adults brought before the courts, providing detailed reports that would help magistrates to make more informed decisions about their futures. This represented a change from the older priorities of the Catholic church that focused on housing children rather than seeking to understand their specific circumstances (Gleeson, 2006, p. 177).
Like her mentors Blackall had to confront a male church hierarchy none of whom were trained in social work. Many of the volunteers associated with church welfare organisations were also suspicious of newly trained lay professionals. As a result of such tension, Blackall was dismissed from her position in 1943 (Gleeson, 2006, p. 176). She returned to Melbourne and continued her social justice commitments through the CWSG, St Joan's Alliance and the Australian Association of Social Workers (Gleeson, 2006, p. 178) until her death in 1975.
- Catholic Women's League, Horizon in Retrospect, 1916-1986, Catholic Women's League Committee, Melbourne, Victoria, 1985. Details
- Gleeson, Damian, 'Some themes in Australian Catholic social welfare history', Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, vol. 28, 2007, pp. 7 - 17. Details
- The Horizon, Catholic Women's League of Victoria and Wagga Wagga, Melbourne, Victoria, 1916 - 1930. Details
- The Horizon, 1 April 1925. Details
- Gleeson, Damian, 'The Professionalisation of Australian Catholic Social Welfare, 1920-1985', PhD thesis, The University of New South Wales (UNSW): School of History, 2006. http://www.unsworks.unsw.edu.au/primo_library/libweb/action/dlDisplay.do?vid=UNSWORKS&docId=unsworks_1178. Details
- 'Our History', in Catholic Women’s League Australia, Catholic Women’s League Australia, http://www.cwla.org.au/about-us/history.html. Details
- Gleeson, Damian, 'Taking care - a long way from Tipperary', in The Catholic Weekly, Catholic Communications, 10 June 2001, http://www.catholicweekly.com.au/01/jun/10/story_10.html. Details