Kate Dwyer

Catherine Winifred Dwyer (1861-1949), Labor leader, was born on 13 June 1861 at Tambaroora, New South Wales, second daughter of Ann (born Fraser) and Joseph Golding, gold-miner. Kate was educated at Hill End Public School and began teaching in 1880. After several country appointments she resigned in 1887 on marriage to fellow schoolteacher Michael Dwyer. Michael was headmaster at Broken Hill during the 1890s industrial conflict before being transferred in 1894 to Marrickville, Sydney. Kate's earliest political activity appears to have been as a member of the Womanhood Suffrage League. She disagreed with Rose Scott (q.v.) on the need for women to remain independent of party and in 1901 was one of the founders of the Women's Progressive Association. She was founding president of the Women's Organizing Committee of the Political Labor League in 1904, a member of the State Labor executive in 1905 and delegate to interstate conferences in 1908 and 1912. Her organising ability and the canvassing of the women's vote by Labor women on a personal basis, contributed importantly to Labor's electoral victories (State and federal) in 1910.

She was not ideologically committed but one of the moderate majority, intent on using the state for educational and health reform and industrial legislation. Like many in the Party, Kate confidently expected compulsory arbitration to benefit workers; for women to share those benefits she attempted in 1904 to form a Women Workers' Union, but without much success. As its delegate to the Sydney Labour Council she joined Labor-appointed royal commissions, into conditions of employment for women and children, an alleged labour shortage in Sydney, and supplies of food and fish to Sydney (1911-13).

Her radicalism was directed to town planning and worker housing, and the appointment of women to public office, for which she worked tirelessly and with some success in the gaols and the police. Her most characteristic activity was educational reform, especially the development of secondary education. She was nominated to the Senate of the University of Sydney (1916-24) where she supported moves for a degree in domestic science and more generally the University's expansion into vocationally oriented faculties.

During the 1914-18 war, Mrs Dwyer was one of the organisers of the anti-conscription campaign. She also applied her organising talents to securing a military contract for unemployed needle-women. She retained her position on the party executive, representing it at the interstate conference at Brisbane in 1921 at which the party adopted the socialisation objective. The New South Wales delegation voted against it. In the bitter faction fighting which followed Mrs Dwyer was a loser. Alone of the old moderates, she was re-elected to the State executive in 1923 but she later lost her position on it. She is credited with being one of a small group of women who confronted J. T. Lang in 1925 when he had failed to include child endowment and widows' pensions in his campaign speech, forcing him to do so. She stood for Balmain but was not elected. (New South Wales was briefly experimenting with multi-member electorates). In 1926-27 Mrs Dwyer was an employees' representative on the Industrial Commission, chaired by A. B. Piddington.

Kate Dwyer served on many committees, including those of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales, the Royal Hospital for Women, the Renwick Hospital for Infants, Scarba Home for Children, and the King George V and Queen Mary Jubilee Fund for Maternal and Infant Welfare. A devout Catholic, she died in the Sacred Heart Hospice for the Dying on 3 February 1949.

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