Woman Jeffreys, Irene Florence


Anglican lay leader and Chartered accountant
Alternative Names
  • Jeffreys, Rene

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Irene Florence Jeffreys was born in 1913 in London; her father was a taxi driver. Nine years later, her family emigrated to Australia and settled in Adelaide, South Australia. An only child, she always tried to live up to her father's expectations (Chryssides, 1994). Jeffreys attended Adelaide Technical High School; she was very active in the Anglican Church and taught Sunday School for 35 years. Training as an accountant, she began paid work at 16 in 1929 and studied for the Federal Institute of Accountants Diploma at night. In 1942 she became the first South Australian woman to qualify for the Institute of Chartered Accountants.

Finding few vacancies for accounting partnerships, she started her own practice in 1946 and continued for 42 years. She also used her accounting skills to serve the Anglican Church. Honorarily she filled key roles in: the Orphan Home Adelaide, the Church of England Youth Hostel, the Anglican Church Missionary Society, the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), the Zonta Club and the National Council of Women. She was secretary of the Cottage Homes for the Elderly from 1947 to 1984. For the Church Missionary Society she visited many missionaries throughout Asia, Africa, South America and the Northern Territory.

Well accustomed, in her professional life, to being the only woman on committees she used her positions in the church to encourage other women to follow her example (Chryssides, 1994). In 1983 she was a founding member of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, Adelaide branch. At the 1977 General Synod, she happily seconded the motion that there was no theological objection to the ordination of women and travelled to Melbourne to celebrate the first ordinations fifteen years later (Cutler, 2004).

Her faith motivated her feminist activism. She was affronted by the great numbers of women within the Church and working as missionaries who were excluded from leadership roles, arguing, 'I believe it's the Holy Spirit gives us the gifts we have...and therefore we should be allowed to exercise them' (Chryssides, 1994). Jeffreys challenged the existing culture to become inclusive of women, by speaking out in committees and to many women's groups (Chryssides,1994). She was the diocese of Adelaide's first female lay reader. In 1962 she was the first woman to be elected to the Australian Anglican Synod. Seven years later she was elected to the Board of Electors of the Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, another first. When the Anglican Consultative Council was established by the1968 Lambeth Conference, Jeffreys was the first woman appointed and represented the Australian church at three bi-annual meetings, in Kenya, Dublin and Trinidad in the 1970s.

Jeffreys received the Order of the British Empire for services to 'women, the church, the aged and children' in 1978. Later, she was president of the Glen Osmond Probus and Inbarendi business and professional women's clubs. In 1999 she represented Australia at the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Church Missionary Society in Britain. She died in 2004.

Archival Resources

State Library of South Australia

  • Interview with Irene Jeffreys [sound recording] / Interviewer: Helen Chryssides, 5 August 1994, OH 250/21; State Library of South Australia. Details

Published Resources

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources