Woman Kumm, Frances Gertrude


Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Gertrude Kumm was born in the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood in 1886, the eldest of eight children of merchant, Frederick Cato and his wife Frances. The family moved to Toorak when Gertrude was two. Her father's wealth meant that she did not need to seek work after completing her education at Methodist Ladies College. In 1912 she married widowed missionary and explorer Dr Herman Kumm, and for the next eighteen years lived overseas where her two children were born. The couple described their relationship as 'a man and a woman joining hands for the service of the world' (Queenslander, 3 December 1936).

Following the death of her husband in 1930, Kumm returned to Melbourne where she followed the family tradition by becoming involved with charitable and church organisations. Her primary commitment was to the YWCA where she rose to the position of national president in 1945, moving on to become international vice-president in 1951. The YWCA's association with the Australian Comforts Fund during the war brought new resources and allowed for a major expansion of its work. Kumm was also president of the National Council of Women (1945-53), the Royal Women's Hospital (1938-42) and the Victorian Diabetic Association (1953-7), as well as joining the committees of Red Cross, the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council and various Methodist agencies. She saw philanthropic work as complementing that of the professionals, and was an admirer of the work done by almoners at the Women's Hospital (Mercury, 4 March 1940).

A confident speaker, Kumm travelled nationally and internationally on behalf of her various causes .'Most of the problems of the world', she believed, 'could be solved if the women of all countries got together' (Sydney Morning Herald, 31 May 1951). She was a believer in direct giving, and, particularly during the war years, toured country towns urging others to follow her example in supporting patriotic causes (Mercury, 30 December 1940). However, she also entertained extensively at her Toorak home, and opened it regularly for fund-raising functions (Mercury, 4 March 1940).

In the postwar world, Kumm encouraged women to be 'neighbourly', not only to 'new Australians' but to 'old Australians' as well, arguing 'nothing is going to ameliorate the spirit of hate following two world wars, like a spirit of love ... Unless we work it out together there is nothing left for the world' (Argus, 11 November 1949).

Awarded the OBE in 1948, Kumm retired from charity work in 1963 and died three years later. A wing of the Royal Women's Hospital was named in her honour.

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