Woman Latham, Freer Helen

Methodist lay leader

Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University

Freer Latham was born in Mullumbimby, NSW, in 1907. Educated in Broken Hill she moved to Sydney to undertake teacher training and had several postings in urban and rural New South Wales before marrying cabinet maker Raymond Latham in 1932. The couple, who had two children, became deeply involved with their local Methodist Church where Freer taught Sunday School, led the Methodist Girls Comradeship and acted as secretary to the Women's Auxiliary for Overseas Missions (WAOM). This involvement intensified after the death of her 8 year old son.

It was through WAOM that she was able to demonstrate her leadership skills, rising to the rank of secretary and vice-president for NSW. The state groups united as the Australian Federation of Methodist Women (AFMW) in 1954, and two years later Latham was one of three national representatives to the conference of the World Federation of Methodist women at which she was appointed vice-president for Australia. She held this post until 1961 when she was elected world president a position which she held until 1966. In this role she travelled extensively both nationally and internationally providing training for women to exercise leadership in the church and campaigning to improve the status of women more generally.

Latham's biographer identifies her key leadership qualities as 'a firm and radiant Christian faith; a warm, gracious and attractive presence; a talent for good organisation; and the gift of compelling and persuasive speech' (Mansfield). She continued to exercise these talents within the AFMW until her death in 1987 in her role as NSW vice-president for life.

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