Woman Moffit, Constance

Social worker

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Constance (Connie) Moffit (1906-1988) was born at Boulder, Western Australia, the first of five children of accountant and mine manager Gilbert Moffit and his wife Sarah Connolly. Educated as a boarder at the Loreto Convent, Perth she went on to the University of Western Australia, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1928. (West Australian, 21 April 1928). Inspired by Edith Stoneham she and fellow student Norma Parker were awarded scholarships to study social work at the National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) in Washington, USA, the first Australians to complete postgraduate studies in social work (Gleeson, 2008, 213).

On their return to Australia in 1931 both settled in Victoria, where Moffit was appointed social worker with the Victorian Vocational and Child Guidance Centre. Three years later she was elected to the board of the Victorian Institute of Hospital Almoners, the training body for social workers in the state (Gleeson, 2008, 214). Moffit saw herself as a reformer. Believing that the Catholic Church needed to co-ordinate its disparate welfare services under professionally trained social workers and reduce its focus on institutionalisation, particularly for children, she joined with Parker to convene a meeting of 150 charity workers in 1935 (Gleeson, 2006, 1child50). Together they documented the full extent of Catholic welfare services in Victoria, and in 1936 founded the Catholic Social Service Bureau (CSSB) to co-ordinate the church-based services. Working through the Bureau, Moffit challenged the practice of placing children in large institutions believing it was more appropriate for each child to be assessed by a social worker (Gleeson, 2006, 151). In the first year of operation she was able to ensure 'that 35% of the 600 child applicants did not have to enter orphanages' (Moffit cited in Gleeson, 2008, 214).

Moving to Sydney in 1939, Moffit worked with Parker, Elvira Lyons and Eileen Davidson to establish the Catholic Trained Social Workers' Association (Davidson, 1940 cited in Gleeson, 2008, 214). Moffit and Parker were also crucial in establishing Sydney's Catholic Welfare Bureau in 1941 (Gleeson, 2008, 214) despite resistance from Catholic welfare providers who felt threatened by lay social workers. Moffit also led the New South Wales Almoners' Association from 1942-1945 (Gleeson, 2006, 196). After the war she worked with refugees in Europe, as a child welfare officer in Germany in 1946-1947 and with the National Association of Mental Health in England. On her return to Australia in 1948 she worked with the International Refugee Organisation and became president of the New South Wales Social Workers' Association (Gleeson, 2006, 197).

Moffit was motivated by her commitment to social work and her religious belief. She argued that Catholic welfare as 'supernatural charity' enabled 'Catholic social workers to see Christ in the poor, and to carry out their work in a realisation that what we do to the poor we do to Christ' (Gleeson, 2006, 146). Social workers' claims to leadership were based on education: 'charity is not merely an emotion. It is a form of understanding. And understanding pre-supposes knowledge' (Gleeson, 2006, 165). Her leadership style was co-operative, strategic, pragmatic and patient in implementing reforms where she was careful to avoid usurping the role of volunteers (Gleeson, 2006, 171).

Additional sources: West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954), 21 April 1928.

Published Resources

Journal Articles

  • Gleeson, Damien, 'Some New Perspectives on Early Australian Social Work', Australian Social Work, vol. 61, no. 3, 2008, pp. 207-225. Details


Online Resources