Woman McCaughey, Jean (1917 - 2012)


County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Ireland
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Social reformer and Writer
Alternative Names
  • Henderson, Jean (Maiden)

Written by John Langmore, The University of Melbourne

Jean McCaughey was a social reformer and writer who had a major influence on Victoria and more widely, on Australia. In her obituary she was described as a leader in the struggle for social justice through her capacities as a researcher, author, organiser, public speaker and institution builder.

Jean McCaughey was born Jean Henderson to an Irish Presbyterian farming family in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, in 1917. Her father was a campaigner for the rights of tenant farmers and the underprivileged and served a term in the Northern Ireland parliament. Jean won a scholarship to Queen's University in Belfast, where she studied medicine and where she was involved in the Student Christian Movement. In 1940 she married Davis McCaughey, who was studying to become a Presbyterian minister. Appointed a lecturer in 1952 and Master of Ormond College in 1959, Davis was to become an influential churchman in Victoria. The couple had five children.

Jean supported Ormond College in many areas, and was a leading advocate for the establishment of a new women's college; she was appointed to the inaugural council of St Hilda's College and later became council chair. In 1963 she was appointed acting general secretary of the Student Christian Movement. She took up employment in the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, first as a research assistant and later a research fellow, for a period of ten years. As a colleague of Professor Ronald Henderson she contributed to the ground-breaking work on poverty in Australia that became a foundation for evolution of Australian social policy. She was co-author of Who Cares?: Family problems, community links and helping services, published in 1977. While on the board of management of the Royal Melbourne Hospital she supported improved working conditions and educational opportunities for nurses. She was also a member of a Victorian government social welfare advisory committee. When the federal government established the Institute of Family Studies in 1980, Jean was invited to join the research program and undertook several studies, one of which was on domestic violence and poverty in the Geelong area, published as Social Support in an Australian Community. The summation of much of this research was the readable and successful book A Bit of a Struggle: Coping with Family Life in Australia, published in 1987.

When in 1986 Premier John Cain appointed Davis McCaughey as Governor of Victoria, Jean McCaughey was an exemplary governor's wife, introducing with Davis an egalitarian style to Government House, opening it for the first time to the public, inviting innumerable groups to the House and visiting most towns in the state. As governor's wife, Jean also accepted patronage of more than 100 societies. In 1988 she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia. After the term in Government House ended, she became joint chair of the non-partisan coalition of social welfare and faith-based community groups titled 'People Together'. Both the University of Melbourne and Deakin University gave her honorary doctorates. She died in Melbourne in 2012 at the age of 95 years.

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