Woman Leworthy, Betty Caroline

Community Leader and Community Worker

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Betty Leworthy was born in New Zealand in 1877, the elder daughter of station manager, Malcolm Leworthy and his wife, Eleanor. Having migrated with her parents to South Australia as a child, Betty completed her education at an Adelaide business college, and used the skills she gained there to support herself, educating other young women in shorthand typing and other secretarial skills. She initiated a Guild of Typists in South Australia in 1902, and was its first secretary (Register, 11 December 1902). The invention of shorthand, she argued, 'was principally instrumental in folding away the outworn garment of early and mid-Victorian prejudice in regard to the employment of women ... [throwing] open a new field of work ... of which they were not slow to take advantage' (Advertiser, 17 May 1913). Careers as a shorthand typist were, she believed, eagerly sought after by 'girls who have not the means to follow up a profession and do not care for avocations like nursing' (Mail, 1 March 1913).

After converting from Anglicanism to Catholicism, Leworthy became involved in community work through the Catholic Women's League, of which she was the founding secretary. She believed that Australian women had been 'slow to realise their responsibilities, powers and privileges' and argued that it was necessary for the future of the nation that this situation be reversed (Register News-Pictorial, 17 October 1929). Initially focused on war work, the League later expanded its activities into other areas of social work. When it established a hostel and club for young women in 1916, Leworthy was its resident secretary, taking on the role of matron when the League fell into financial difficulties.

Admired both for her powers of observation and her 'strong sense of commercial values' she was sent overseas by the Commonwealth Government in 1925 to make a study of women's employment and make recommendations in relation to female immigration (Advertiser, 20 January 1925). She suggested that women's societies encourage the development of the handloom weaving which she reported was enjoying a revival in Europe, and facilitated the migration of two women prepared to teach the necessary skills (Advertiser, 6 October 1925).

The League was involved in relief work during the 1930s Depression and returned to war work during the 1940s. A member of the Women's Non-Party Political Association, Leworthy was not constrained by denominational boundaries, pushing the Association to become involved in a range of social services and co-operating with all denominations in convening the Fruit and Vegetable Committee at the Lady Mayoress's Relief Depot (Advertiser, 15 June 1929). As the Depression worsened she organised a regular market at which housewives could buy direct from female producers (Mail, 9 September 1933).

Leworthy was awarded the Jubilee Medal in 1936 and the MBE in 1949. She died in 1962.

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