Woman Bonython, Constance Jean

Charity Worker

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Jean Bonython was born in Adelaide in 1891, the elder daughter of merchant, Charles Warren and his wife, Alice. After a private schooling in Adelaide she went on to the University but her studies came to an end with her marriage in 1911 to widower, Sir John Lavington Bonython. Constance became stepmother to his three children, and subsequently gave birth to three children of her own.

Sir John was twice mayor of Adelaide, and his position gave Jean entree to the city's social elite. 'A good wife', she believed, had to be 'a capable housekeeper, a charming hostess and a sensible mother' (Register News-Pictorial, 23 September 1930). She understood her charity work as a 'duty' that came as part of this role (Register News-Pictorial, 2 February 1929). Complimented on her contribution at the end of her husband's second term as Lord Mayor she commented: 'We just did our best to do our job' (Register News-Pictorial, 20 December 1930). She took a leading role in relief during the depression and served on the committees of a large number of charitable organisations, primarily concerned with the welfare of women and children, as well as artistic and civic causes. She was also one of only two women on the committee which organised South Australia's Centenary Celebrations (Advertiser, 16 February 1934).

Bonython's focus was on finding practical and community-based solutions to social problems, using her influence with government to provide additional funding where necessary (West Australian, 10 March 1937). She took a particular interest in the kindergarten movement, believing 'what the children learn ... of neatness and cleanliness they take into their homes ... and thus the whole tone of neighbourhoods has been changed' (Advertiser, 13 June 1935). Whenever she spoke on behalf of kindergartens she emphasised the support which the mothers themselves gave to the work 'even though they were having a struggle to keep their own homes going' (Advertiser, 17 October 1930).

Although she lived the life of a society hostess, renown for her charity balls and floral arrangements, as early as 1937, she was suggesting that an alternative needed to be found to the 'everlasting bridges, balls and gift teas' through which funds were raised (Advertiser, 28 June 1937). She was also keen to rid charity of its elite associations, remarking to members of the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital ladies committee that she wished they could simply be called 'women' (Gibberd). While she was more often reported for what she wore rather than what she said as she made her way around her various social and fund-raising engagements, she took a practical interest in many of the causes she was called upon to endorse. Her co-workers claimed that 'she ... never asked us to do anything that she has not done twice as hard' (Register News-Pictorial, 30 October 1930). One of her regular practical contributions was, from 1933 to 1950, to decorate a window at the Useful Sales Depot to draw attention to the craft work of widows and the unemployed (Advertiser, 20 December 1950).

Bonython was awarded the OBE in 1954, two years after she had assumed the presidency of the Mother and Baby Health Association and resigned from the Kindergarten Union over a disagreement as to educational policy (Advertiser, 24 May 1952). She died in 1977. A kindergarten at Belair is named in her honour.

Published Resources


  • Bonython, Constance, I'm No Lady: The Reminiscences of Constance Jean Bonython, O.B.E. 1891-1977, Warren Bonython, Adelaide, South Australia, 1976 - 1981. Details

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources

See also