Woman Egan, Katherine Rose

Charity Worker

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Katherine Egan was born in England in 1861, the daughter of soldier, Thomas Egan and his wife Mary. Educated in Catholic schools in France, she migrated to Sydney to join a married sister in about 1900. She never married, and was sufficiently wealthy not to have to seek paid work.

Egan's wealth and English background meant that she was able to cross denominational boundaries more easily than other Catholic women, but she came to philanthropy late in life. An enthusiastic golfer, at the outbreak of the first world war she was recruited by fellow player Mrs Langer Owen to become a founding member of the Red Cross. In this role she discovered her 'gifts for organising', running the clothing depot as well as serving on the executive committee (Sydney Morning Herald , 13 August 1928). Working initially in the basement of the Town Hall she was responsible for 'receiving, checking, tabulating and dispatching' donated goods (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 1940). A frequent speaker on behalf of Red Cross, she was noted as 'not only an able organiser, but a ready and willing worker' (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 March 1918). When praised for her contribution she was always quick to acknowledge her fellow workers, saying that where 'she did her best, they did better' (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 February 1925).

Egan was also a fund-raiser for Catholic causes, including acting as organising secretary of the committee which established the Catholic women's college at the University of Sydney (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 June 1924). In 1934 she took over from Mary Barlow as president of the Catholic Women's Association. In this role she drew on her own resources to expand the activities of the Association, establishing auxiliaries to work for the Red Cross, people with disabilities, and at the Aboriginal settlement at La Perouse (Sydney Morning Herald, 16 September 1935). Although she resigned from the presidency in 1941, when Archbishop Gilroy imposed tighter control of the Association, she did agree to be vice-president of its successor, the Legion of Catholic Women.

During World War II, Egan continued her leadership role within the Red Cross. In the clothing depot, which she had maintained throughout the interwar years, she 'quickly found herself falling into the old routine' (Sydney Morning Herald, 29 February 1940). She was also the foundation president of the Catholic United Services Auxiliary which ran a services hut for service personnel while continuing her support for other Catholic charities. Although Egan did not identify as a feminist, she was for a time, a Red Cross delegate to the National Council of Women and, in 1946, agree to be vice-president of the Catholic feminist group, the St Joan's Alliance, when it established a branch in Sydney (Sydney Morning Herald, 16 October 1946).

Egan was awarded the MBE in 1918, and the medal of Bene Merenti in 1929 for her work at the Eucharistic Congress (Sydney Morning Herald, 16 May 1929). She died in 1951 and was acclaimed for the 34 years service that she had given to Red Cross (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 September 1951).

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