Woman Zichy-Woinarski, Gertrude Mary

Charity Worker

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Gertrude Zichy-Woinarski was born in Ballarat, Victoria in 1874, the sixth child of chemist, Henry Brind and his wife, Hester. In 1895 she married physician and surgeon, Victor Zichy-Woinarski. The couple settled in Melbourne where they had four children.

By 1900 Zichy-Woinarski had become involved in charitable work in her local community, joining the committees of the Benevolent Asylum and the Melbourne Ladies Benevolent Society (MLBS). Following the deaths of her husband and one son in quick succession she gave more time to the Society, taking on the role of honorary secretary in 1926. In this position she came to be seen as an expert in the administration of charitable relief. She played a key role in relief efforts during the 1930s depression, taking a particular interest in the welfare of unemployed girls excluded from most government provision (Argus, 19 January 1933). 'The single girl', she argued, 'had more backbone than the single man. She doesn't come crying for help ... until she is absolutely up against it. Her pride won't allow it' (Mirror, 25 August 1928). During World War II Zichy-Woinarski was a member of the state Evacuation Committee. After resigning from her position as MLBS secretary in 1945, she published a book about the history of the society and played a major role in establishing Ravenswood, its home for elderly women which opened in 1948.

Zichy-Woinarski was a moderniser, working to bring about greater collaboration between suburban benevolent societies and representing the MLBS on the state's first social work training body, the Victorian Institute of Almoners. As a committee member at the Benevolent Society she was one of a group of women whose authority was contested (unsuccessfully) by male members after they sought to dismiss staff for using bad language. Underlying their argument was the belief that residents were entitled to respect (Argus, 23 January 1903). She was forthright in highlighting the deficiencies in Government provision rather than blaming the poor for their own situation (Argus, 30 July 1935). She also stood out against some of the conservative views shared by colleagues in the philanthropic sector, arguing, for instance, that young women needed to be offered decent conditions if they were to be persuaded to enter domestic service (Advocate, 2 May 1935).

Awarded the Jubilee Medal in 1935 and the MBE in 1954, she continued to attend MLBS meetings until her death in the following year.

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection

  • Papers on various Australian women, c. 1900 - c. 1999, MS 842; National Library of Australia Manuscript Collection. Details

Published Resources


  • Melbourne Ladies Benevolent Society; Abbott, E. S and Woinarski, G. Zichy, Women who helped pioneers : pages of Melbourne history that glow, Melbourne Ladies' Benevolent Society by Truth & Sportsman Ltd, Melbourne, Victoria, 1945. Details

Newspaper Articles


  • Bush, Janine, 'Crisis of moral authority: the Ladies Benevolent Societies in the Victorian welfare field, 1920-1939', PhD thesis, Australian National University (ANU), 2002. Details

Online Resources

See also