Woman Harris, Rita May

Community Worker

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Rita Harris was born in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton in 1888, the elder daughter of grazier Isidore Moss and his wife Alice. After completing her education at Presbyterian Ladies' College she worked as a voluntary helper at the Carlton Free Kindergarten for four years before her marriage to Norman Harris in 1912. The marriage was childless.

Harris continued her involvement with the kindergarten movement, joining the committee of the Collingwood Creche/Kindergarten in 1920, and becoming a member of the executive committee of the Free Kindergarten Union in 1933, assuming the vice-presidency from 1947-50. She was also a member of the Women's Hospital Committee, and president from 1945-8, when the hospital was challenged by the coincidence of the post-war baby boom and a shortage of materials for redevelopment (Argus, 16 August 1946). In both of these positions she was responsible for overseeing major change, and introducing innovative fund-raising methods to augment the usual social events many of which she hosted at her home. One such was the Silver Door campaign, co-ordinating teams of volunteers to sort waste metals for reuse during wartime, with the proceeds going to the Free Kindergarten Union (Argus, 3 August 1940). The Silver Door linked fund-raising to patriotism, its advocates noting that 'non-knitters find sorting ... a good and useful way to help a national industry' (Argus, 14 August 1940).

Harris retired from her committee work in 1950 but remained an enthusiastic member of a Legacy auxiliary for the next 22 years. She was awarded the OBE in 1951 and a Collingwood kindergarten and the wing housing the Women's Hospital out-patients department were named in her honour (Argus, 6 April 1954). She died in 1975.

Published Resources


  • Gardiner, Lyndsay, The Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria, 1908-1980, Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), Hawthorn, Victoria, 1982. Details

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Online Resources

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