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Owen, Mary Louisa (?–1917)

from Sydney Morning Herald

On "Our Day" for the British Rod Cross there died in Sydney one of the great Red Cross workers of Australia–one who for three years had laboured incessantly and lovingly for the sick and wounded soldiers of this country. It is not too much to say that the death of Mrs Langer [Mary Louisa] Owen, like that of Dr Elsie Inglis, the founder of the Scottish Women's hospitals, and another brave and devoted women whose record of work done for the Empire in those days is one of the splendid chapters of our history, was hastened by over-exertion in Red Cross work. Unselfishly and unwearyingly, she had thrown her whole energies, her whole heart and soul, into the work, and a constitution never too strong succumbed to the strain. For a long time past she had been in indifferent health, and about a year ago she made a voyage to Colombo in the hope that it would restore her health. She reaped much benefit from the change and rest, but no sooner had she returned than she insisted on resuming her Red Cross activities particularly  devoting her attention to the training of returned men at No 4 Military Hospital Randwick, in the basket, toy making, and wood carving industries. It was too much for her but she would not give it up.

All this time Mrs Langer Owen had been a member of the central executive of the Red Cross Society in this State but when the annual meeting of the society was held recently the chairman, Mr J. O. Fairfax announced that he had received her resignation. In making the announcement, Mr Fairfax said that Mrs Owen was one of the pioneers of the Red Cross movement in New South Wales, and had done magnificent work. It was a severe blow to the society, he added, to be deprived of her services.

The wife of Mr Langer Owen K.C., head of the Red Cross Information Bureau in this State, and the mother of Miss Gladys Owen who has been joint honorary secretary with Miss Mort, of the New South Wales division of the society ever since it was formed, the Red Cross has suffered a great loss by the death of this estimable lady. The news of her death came as a shock to the members of the executive and to all her many friends.

Mrs Owen was one of the founders of the Red Cross in Sydney. Some months before war broke out she stood and watched a long procession of the boys of our citizen army passing through the streets of Sydney and the thought came to her that some steps ought to be taken to organise and train the girls of our country in first-aid and ambulance work. Strangely enough–but perhaps it is not strange after all–there were others who watched the procession that day and to whom the same thought came. One of those was Mrs Shepheard Laidley. Another was Mrs Gordon Wesche. A third was Mr Hanbury Davies. Soon after this a meeting was called and it was decided to put the plan into execution without delay. Classes in first aid were started and Mrs Langer Owen wrote to friends in England to send her out full information concerning Red Cross work. And suddenly the war came. It was not till some time after the outbreak of war that the Red Cross literature that had been asked for, including full particulars of the Geneva Convention, arrived, but it was due to the action then taken by a small but far seeing band of men and women–the nucleus of our Red Cross Society–that we were able to set our hands so promptly to the great duties demanded of us in the care of our wounded and sick soldiers.

From the very outset Mrs Langer Owen threw all her energies into the Red Cross movement. Those ladies who had started the smaller movement now became the life and soul of the larger one, and by their efforts, seconded by those of a large body of men and women fired with patriotic fervour, it was soon placed upon a strong and sure footing. But it was mostly women who did this thing. “Man with the head and woman with the heart'–and this was chiefly a thing of the heart. And of them all there was none with a bigger, braver heart than this lady whose death the Red Cross mourns–the Red Cross and our soldiers for whom she did so much. She was one of the few who understood from the very first that the Red Cross stood for something different from all other societies, something larger and wider–as wide as humanity itself. She had a profound love for Australia and a deep and abiding faith in its future and among other things she did much to encourage Australian people to support Australian industries. She was one of the first to suggest the sending away of Australian milk foods and other products to the Allies in the early days of the war, and the fact that the Egyptian hospitals were so well supplied with these foods and other comforts when our wounded men were brought from Gallipoli was largely due to her wise foresight.

Even in these early days of the war Mrs Langer Owen realised that preparations must be made for the training of the maimed ones who would return to us–the crippled, the blind and others who would no longer be able to follow their former occupations–in order to fit them for new occupations that would not only relieve the tedium of their lives but also give them a feeling of independence and prove of benefit to the community at large. And so it came about that when the first lot of wounded men returned to Sydney there were teachers waiting to instruct those who desired to learn basket-making, toy-making, woodcarving, leather work, etc. For some months before their return a large number of women and girls had been receiving instruction in these things in order that they might in turn become instructors. That work has gone on growing and it is to-day one of the most important branches of Red Cross work. It is this work that stands perhaps as Mrs Langer Owens chief monument. She inaugurated it and was in it, heart and soul, to the end.

A forceful and eloquent speaker, Mrs Langer Owen was frequently heard from the platform, not only in connection with Red Cross activities but also as a member of the Win-the-War League and of other patriotic bodies. In this regard it may be mentioned that her daughter, Miss Gladys Owen, in addition to her work as hon. secretary of the Red Cross Society, had also proved to be one of our most effective public speakers, and has been responsible for obtaining a great many volunteers for active service from all parts of the country. Miss Mollie Owen, the only other daughter, is at present in India, where she has been the guest of Lord and Lady Clelmsford and other friends. There is but one son and he is at the front.

Mrs Langer Owen was the only daughter of Francis Travers Dames Longworth Q.C. of Glynewood, Athlone, Lord-Lieutenant of County Westmeath.

“When the news of her death was received”, said a member of the executive of the Red Cross Society on Saturday, “It was felt almost as if the soul of the Red Cross had gone. But that would be far from what Mrs Owen would say, because she was so intensely spiritual in her outlook that she believed that those who had crossed the border worked on in spirit through us. Certainly this brave and patriotic soul will continue to speak to us and to inspire us.”

The funeral took place on Saturday afternoon, in the Church of England section of the Waverley Cemetery, and was largely attended. The Rev. W. L. Langley, of All Saints', Woollahra, officiated at the graveside. The principal mourners were Mr. Langer Owen, K.C., and Miss Gladys Owen. Among others present were Miss Ruth Lumsdaine, Miss de Burgh, Miss Fairfax, Miss Macdonald, Miss Needham, Sir. Edmund Barton, Mr. Justice Gordon, Mr. Justice Street, Mr. Justice Harvey, Messrs. Adrian Knox, K.C., J. L. Campbell. K.C., J. O. Fairfax, H. P. Owen, Hanbury Davies, Consett Stephen, David Maughan, A. Q. Wesche, James Ashton, M.L.C., A. C. Ebsworth, H. C. E. Rich, E. M. de Burgh, and Dr. Foreman.

Original publication

Other Obituaries for Mary Louisa Owen

Citation details

'Owen, Mary Louisa (?–1917)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/owen-mary-louisa-18041/text29621, accessed 24 November 2017.

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