Woman Mowll, Dorothy Ann



Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Dorothy Mowll, nee Martin, was born in 1890 in Bath, England, the daughter of Anglican missionaries working for the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Her early years were in China but after her mother died she was raised in England. Leaving school at 18, she graduated with a teacher training diploma and worked at a medical mission before leaving England in 1915 to serve with the CMS in Szechwan, China (Loane).

Dorothy Mowll had 'the qualities of a pioneer: a zest for hardship and an ardent pursuit of the new and unknown' (Loane). In August 1917, she and a friend set out to climb the 19,000 feet Chin-ting-shan or Nine Pinnacle Mountain and reached the peak - a higher point than any previous foreign climber (Loane). In 1918 she went for twelve months to Long-an in the mountains towards Tibet and visited villages where no missionary had ever been. Then in 1921 she set out to return to London, being robbed by river pirates, but escaping safely. She sailed again for Shanghai in 1923 and was at Mien-chu when Howard Mowll arrived as assistant-bishop of West China. She was made Supervisor of Schools and secretary to the Education Committee and sent to Chongpa and then to Sintu (Xindu). She married Bishop Mowll later that year (Loane). Together they travelled widely, making journeys to India, Europe, North America and Australasia in between 1930 and 1932.

Bishop Mowll was posted to Sydney, Australia, early in 1934 (Cable). In Sydney Dorothy Mowll worked tirelessly as a hostess to visitors at Bishopscourt. She was an extremely talented manager and for the Broughton Centenary Celebrations of 1936 she organised a pageant of seven hundred players (Rose). She was Diocesan President of the Mothers' Union and during the Second World War, she oversaw the work of the Sydney Diocesan Churchwomen's Association, mobilising clergy's wives as the workforce for the Church of England National Emergency Fund (CENEF), which her husband had formed to assist servicemen and women. This was one of her most outstanding achievements. Mavis Rose wrote: 'As most clergy wives in the diocese were leaders of parish women's groups, it was possible by using clergy wives as middle management to roster thousands of churchwomen for duty in the canteens and hostels. Dorothy Mowll, as bishop's wife, very effectively mirrored the clergy command structure through clergy wives to carry out large scale projects.'

Mowll was described as 'an astoundingly successful organiser and leader, a visionary'. Archbishop Marcus Loane said 'it is quite impossible to say how much her drive had meant in the Archbishop's ministry' (Rose). She chose not to challenge the traditional hierarchy of masculine power within the Anglican Church, but forged her own path: 'thus by her achievements challenging its validity … Her leadership role was not restricted to the women's sphere, so that even bishops conceded that her performance outshone that of her husband. Her light was too brilliant to remain unnoticed in the shadows' (Rose).

Dorothy Mowll achieved international recognition being made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for mapping large areas of China while a missionary. In 1956 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her community work. Geoffrey Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury, referred to her at the Lambeth Conference of 1958 as 'one of the most remarkable women in the Anglican Communion' (Rose). In the 1950s she assisted with the purchase of Gilbulla, Sydney, for use as a diocesan conference venue and planned a retirement village which eventually became the Mowll Memorial Village, Castle Hill, Sydney, named in her honour. She died in 1957.

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