Woman Ogilvie, Katharine Florinda

Academic, Hockey player and Social Worker
Alternative Names
  • Ogilvie, Kate

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Described by Professor Norma Parker as 'our most outstanding pioneer in social work in New South Wales', Katharine Ogilvie was born in 1902 at Glen Innes, New South Wales. Twenty-one years later she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts at Sydney University. She began work at the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children, Sydney, and rose to the position of Chief Executive.

In 1929 when the first social work training body, the Board of Training for Social Service, was established in Sydney the Rachel Forster Hospital moved to establish a social work department. The following year Katharine Ogilvie was selected for the Australian women's hockey team's overseas tour. Seizing this opportunity, the hospital gave Ogilvie a year's leave to also visit hospitals in the UK and the USA to observe medical social work departments. In 1931 she returned and hosted a conference but most recommendations were unable to be implemented due to the Depression. However, the hospital sent Ogilvie back to the UK to gain her Certificate at the English Institute of Almoners. In 1934 the hospital's almoner department opened under her leadership (Parker, 1983, p. 5). Parker described the 1930s as 'a vital first decade in medical social work' and believed Ogilvie gave the main leadership in Sydney (Parker, 1983, p. 5). She noted Ogilvie's ability to see 'wider implications and interrelationships', her ability to inspire confidence in others, to stimulate social action and influence community attitudes (Parker, 1983, p. 4). Her organisational skills were also apparent in her involvement in hockey. Acclaimed as Australia's premier hockey coach, by 1937 she was chairman of the Australian Women's Hockey Council, and Vice-President of the International Federation of Women's Hockey (Advertiser, 19 February 1937. Her success in both spheres was recognised by the award of an MBE in 1937 (Sydney Morning Herald, 11 May 1937).

With the outbreak of war in 1939 Ogilvie took leave and volunteered with the Australian Comforts Fund to set up an agency that would assist families in need. This was the forerunner of the Family Welfare Bureau, and she became its honorary director. She was also an adviser to the Red Cross as it expanded its services. From 1941-1954 she was the Senior Almoner at the Sydney Hospital and Director of Training for the NSW Institute of Almoners and a Member of the Child Welfare Advisory Council from 1941-1950. Colleagues from that time remember her as 'an intrepid innovator ... [who] constantly inspired ... with her wisdom and humanity' (Hamilton, 2011, p.13).

From 1943-1949 she was also a fellow of Sydney University's Senate and in 1954 when the University established a Social Work Department she was appointed to a lectureship. In 1950-1951 she returned to Britain to study methods of teaching social work, visiting the Universities of London and Oxford, the British Institute of Almoners, St Thomas Hospital and Radcliff Infirmary. For the next ten years she worked with Norma Parker teaching and supervising social work students. Her colleagues observed her vigour, gusto, tenacity, passion and ability to argue. She was very strong in battles but also displayed warmth, compassion and candour. Many students found her inspirational. These were all qualities that enabled her to lead and influence the profession of medical social work in Australia (Parker, 1983, p. 7).

Ogilvie was also involved with the Housing Improvement Board, Old People's Welfare Council, President and active member of the New South Wales Council of Social Service, chairman of its research committee; member of the Council of the Women's College, lecturer to the Royal College of Nursing and in Hospital Administration at the University of New South Wales; member of the executive committee of the Sheltered Workshops' Association, the Heart Foundation and other organisations (Tom Brennan in Parker, 1983, p. 4). She retired in 1964, but was fondly remembered, particularly for the way in which she used her multiple connections to facilitate the careers of others (Kirby, 2002).

After Ogilvie died in 1983, the Rachel Forster Hospital named the Katharine Ogilvie Department of Social Work in her honour and in 1988 Sydney University's Faculty of Education and Social Work established the Katharine Ogilvie Memorial Award to further postgraduate research.

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
  • Parker, Norma, 'Katharine Ogilvie: An Appreciation delivered by Norma Parker, Memorial Service, Women's College, University of Sydney, 21st February, 1983', Australian Social Work, vol. 36, no. 2, June 1983, pp. 3-8. Details

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources