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Green, Catherine Elizabeth (Kit) (1881–1965)

by Sue Tracey

Catherine Green, n.d.

Catherine Green, n.d.

Catherine Elizabeth (Kit) Green, née Diggs, late Russell (1881-1965), housewife, domestic servant and member of parliament

Birth: 1 August 1881 at Curban, near Gilgandra, New South Wales, daughter of Daniel West Diggs, also known as Digges (1823-1908), a farmer born in Athlone, County Galway, Ireland, and his second wife Catherine, née Kain (1841-1935). Marriages: (1) 1 February 1904 in Sydney to native-born William John ‘Billy’ Russell (1879-1915), a plumber and a trade union leader. They had three sons and one daughter. (2) 24 July 1926 at Randwick, Sydney, to a native-born widower with two daughters, Sydney Temple Green (1867-1945), stonemason, quarry-master and pioneer Labor party member. Death: 25 January 1965 in Sydney. Religion: Catholic. 

  • Educated at Curban public school, 'Kit' left home at 14 to work as a domestic servant in a hotel at Dubbo. In 1898 the hotel was sold and the landlady bought a hotel in the Rocks, bringing Catherine with her to Sydney,
  • Widowed in 1915, when her husband died from injuries incurred in a work accident, she struggled to provide for four young children, and operated a grocery shop from her home in Campsie. Later she worked in milk bars and delicatessens.
  • Catherine Russell was a dedicated socialist. She had joined the Australian Labor Party about 1904. Was party organiser, South Sydney and Bankstown line, press secretary of the Labor Women's Central Organising Committee and a member of the Campsie branch of the ALP. She was sometime member of State and Federal electorate councils of the ALP and secretary of the East Sydney branch..
  • Prominent in Clovelly branch of the ALP in the 1920s she was appointed Justice of the Peace on 13 July 1921. An occasional contributor to the Labor Daily (Sydney), in June 1931 she contested Labor preselection for election to the Australian Senate. She was a member of the Public Liberty League.
  • About 1929 Catherine Green was a founder and secretary of the Women’s Vanguard, with Kate Dwyer as president. It aimed to encourage women to take an interest in politics and encourage them to join trade unions. She was also active supporting timber-workers in the 1929 lockout. With the Women’s Vanguard and the LWCOC she worked to establish a hostel for unemployed women and girls in Sydney during the Depression. Three such institutions were established, and Green became honorary matron of one of them, named the ‘Lang Hostel’, in Sussex street, Sydney.
  • Green and Ellen Webster, both appointed to the Legislative Council of New South Wales on 24 November 1931 were the first women on the council and the first to be Labor parliamentarians. It was not until 1952, when the ALP selected Gertrude Melville, that another woman became a Legislative Councillor.
  • Green later stated that she “only went to Macquarie-street to abolish the Upper House”. When she found that it would take a referendum to do that, she decided she could “do more to help the women of this country in other directions”. She resigned from the council on 7 September 1932. Reputedly, her husband’s opposition led to her resignation.
  • After leaving parliament she remained active in the ALP and was a member of the central executive 1937. Following the death of her second husband she was a housekeeper at St Mary’s cathedral and later for a priest at Enfield.
  • She was remembered as a keen violinist.
  • Her daughter was a Catholic nun. Two of her sons were noted cartoonists — Dan Russell (1906-1999) and Jim Russell (1909-2001).

Sources
Heather Radi, Peter Spearritt and Elizabeth Hinton, Biographical Register of the NSW Parliament 1901-1970 (Canberra, 1979); ALP Woman Magazine, Special Diamond Jubilee Issue, February 1964; Sue Tracey, 'Catherine Green and Ellen Webster – the first women in the NSW Legislative Council', Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, The Hummer (Sydney), vol. 3 no. 1, https://www.labourhistory.org.au/hummer/vol-3-no-1/catherine-green/

Additional Resources

Citation details

Sue Tracey, 'Green, Catherine Elizabeth (Kit) (1881–1965)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/green-catherine-elizabeth-kit-32804/text40806, accessed 3 October 2022.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Catherine Green, n.d.

Catherine Green, n.d.