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Joan Mary Hore (1890–1955)

by Jude Conway

Joan Hore, at West Epping Congregational Church, 1936-1940

Joan Hore, at West Epping Congregational Church, 1936-1940

Synod Archives, Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of NSW and the ACT

Joan Hore was the first ordained woman minister in New South Wales — at the Bethany Congregational Church in Speers Point in 1931. 

Joan Mary Hore was born in Bedford, England, in August 1890, the second child of Congregational missionaries Edward Coode Hore and Annie Boyle Hore nee Gribbon. Her parents had spent years with the London Missionary Society in Central Africa, where they lost their first child to smallpox. In 1893 Edward Hore was appointed to the London Missionary Society steamer John Williams IV, which travelled between Christian missions on islands in the South Pacific with the Hore family aboard. In 1900, when Joan was ten, he retired as captain of the steamer and the family moved to Lymington, Tasmania, to farm. Joan was home schooled. After failing at farming the Hore family relocated to Hobart in 1906 and for the last two years of her secondary education Joan attended a private school run by Quaker educator Samuel Clemes. 

Joan Hore’s sense of social justice was apparent from an early age and in 1909 she had a 3-part fictional story published in The Critic, a small weekly local newspaper, in which she portrayed the first white inhabitants as having shot the ‘rightful owners’ of Tasmanian land during the invasion. She was a gifted writer and her future efforts included poetry and plays. 

Joan enrolled as an Arts student at the University of Tasmania, a rare event for females at the time. Alongside majoring in English and History she was declared ‘the finest lady debater ever’. Upon graduation in 1914 she was awarded a free return ticket from the Orient Company to continue her study in Britain and the Continent. The First World War was declared only days after she departed with her mother on the liner Orama (her father had died in 1912). The Orama managed to reach England where Joan attended lectures on teaching, economics and history and visited the first ever grammar school for girls before returning home in 1915. 

Joan Hore was employed as a teacher at Hobart Girls High School, but in 1918 she and her mother moved to Sydney and Joan became an English and History teacher at the Redlands’ Girls College[1] in Cremorne. The headmistress, G. Amy Roseby, was active in the Congregational church. The school developed a reputation for scholastic excellence and innovation and Joan introduced debating, considered a radical activity for girls. 

After her mother died in 1922 Joan applied to be a missionary with the London Missionary Society. She was accepted and in November 1923 travelled to Madras (now Chennai) to be second in charge of a large Christian girls' boarding school. She was there less than a year before she became depressed and returned home. She reapplied six months later, but was refused further service. In 1926 Joan was briefly a missionary teacher in Suva, Fiji, with the Methodist Overseas Mission but again could not cope. Instead she returned to Sydney and became active in the Young Women's Missionary Movement, helping to raise interest in and money for the cause. 

In 1928 a spirited Englishwoman named Maude Royden, a feminist and a pacifist, visited Sydney to promote her campaign for women to become ordained ministers. Royden drew large crowds when she preached in the Pitt Street Congregational church and the Darling Point Anglican church. Joan may have attended the former, because soon afterwards she began open-air preaching alongside Rev. James Mountain, the Congregational minister at Redfern. That same year (1928) she was ‘called’ to Speers Point Congregational Church to be a lay pastor. Congregational Churches (which became part of the Uniting Church in 1977) were attended by, at most, 5% of the Australian population, although only 1% of Novocastrians. However the Congregational Union allowed for full liberty of conscience, and self-governing churches, which allowed for a woman to be called to the ministry. At Speers Point Joan preached in the church while studying through extra-mural classes because, as a woman, she was not allowed to live at the Camden theological college. After she passed her final exams Joan Hore was ordained at Speers Point on 28 May 1931 in an auspicious ceremony presided over by the chairman of the Congregational Union of NSW. 

Rev. Joan Hore’s pioneering ordination was reported throughout New South Wales and nationally. Her preaching at North Sydney Congregational Church in October 1931 elicited the following comment in the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Miss Hore brings a freshness of outlook to her ministration. She has a finely developed perception and understanding. Her sympathy and womanliness are manifest …’ The journalist seems to be stressing that although Rev. Joan had taken on a male profession she was in no way adopting male characteristics. She did not receive the same wage as her fellow male ministers and being a single woman, was never provided with a manse. Joan had to find places to board wherever she was located and finding suitable accommodation was often a problem. 

Rev. Joan was appointed minister at Islington and Beresfield Congregational churches in the Newcastle district. As well as preaching, she provided religious instruction in schools, conducted marriages and funerals,  promoted overseas missions and the British and Foreign Bible Society, and visited hospitals and mining localities. Joan estimated her work occupied about 15 hours of each day. She was praised as ‘a fine and virile speaker’ and her talks and sermons were regularly quoted in the newspaper. In 1933 she spent five weeks in Palestine and for years afterwards spoke to many groups about what she had observed. She became involved in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and was a life-long temperance advocate, believing alcohol caused social problems. In Speers Point, when she heard about a woman whose husband was physically abusing her when he was drunk, Joan began standing at the gate of the couple’s house in the evening when the man came home, with the warning that she would stand there every night until the abuse stopped. It did. 

The Great Depression continued to bite deeply into the 1930s and the Newcastle Morning Herald reported that the Rev. Hore was ‘well known in the district for her work with the unemployed’. She visited shanty camps, taking donated food and groceries, clothing, reading matter, and gifts and cake on Christmas Day. Joan also publicly spoke out in support of the rights of the unemployed and was much admired by them. After she became minister at Mayfield West Congregational church, Novocastrian Vera Deacon’s Communist Party parents, who were ‘making do’ at an unemployed camp nearby, attended Rev. Joan’s church services and admired her as ‘a true Christian woman.’ 

By 1936 Rev. Joan’s focus on the unemployed caused conflict with the conservative members of the churches she was serving, so she resigned, citing ‘conflicting attitudes and a declining congregation.’ Perhaps the decline was in people able to put money in the collection plate. One of her  hard-hitting farewell sermons is worth quoting from:

‘ … We still try to keep our city clean at the expense of the Christ spirit. Bag huts and shabby cottages do not add to the value of the property near them and some people would like to turn the occupant away, forgetting that poverty is largely the result of man-made laws …’

It seems, as one historian opined, Reverend Joan Hore was ‘too radical for Newcastle in the 1930s’. Not everyone was happy that she was leaving; Rev. Hunt from Stockton Church said she would be missed in the district. 

From April 1937, Rev. Joan was based at West Epping Congregational Church. As well as preaching, she added devotional radio broadcasts on 2CH to her schedule, and always supported Christian women’s groups; for example in 1938 she  led the prayers at the first rally of the NSW Women’s Inter-Church Council. Rev. Joan was a pacifist so after the outbreak of World War Two, was one of the 18 Congregational Church ministers who signed a letter calling for the end of war, published in the Newcastle Sun and the Sydney Sun, and the Peacemaker newspaper. Her pacifist beliefs brought her into ‘conflict with members of her congregation over Australia’s involvement in the war.’ So, along with the difficulty of finding suitable accommodation in the area, she chose to resign from West Epping Congregational Church in 1940. 

Rev. Joan preached at an array of churches, even returning to Islington Church for an anniversary service in October 1941, before Huonville Congregational Church in Tasmania secured her services for three months, so she returned to the state of her youth. In 1942 she was invited to be the preacher at Devonport Congregational Church and she spent a few busy years in that position. As well as preaching, as usual she was a committee member of and guest speaker at many church-linked organisations, women’s groups and and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She also helped to promote the annual Women's World Day of Prayer, adjudicated debates at local high schools and was appointed an honorary probationary officer at Children's Courts in the district. 

In January 1947, because of regional conflicts within the Congregational Church, Joan terminated her Devonport ministry. Receiving no invitations from other Congregational churches, she  accepted one from Rev R. H. Howie, the Devonport Methodist minister, to be an Associate Minster of the local Methodist circuit. The Burnie Advocate announced that ‘The situation [was] unique’ and certainly Reverend Joan Hore appears to be the first permanent female Minister in the Methodist church in Australia. She continued her keen interest in every phase of church work, and her pastoral care of the sick and aged which ‘was greatly appreciated by people of all churches and of no church’. Also, for ten years, Rev. Joan conducted weekly radio broadcasts that ‘were eagerly listened to by large numbers of people in the North-West’. 

As she herself was ageing, Rev. Joan’s preaching engagements slowed down from 1954 after she spent several weeks in hospital. She continued providing pastoral care to others and writing her long-running weekly column for the Advocate, ‘Let’s Look at the Bible’. As well as ‘mining the bible for stories of women’ her columns covered a range of parables. Their popularity resulted in the columns being printed under different titles in Melbourne’s Weekly Times

The pioneering woman minister, Reverend Joan Hore, died of high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis in July 1955 and was buried in Devonport cemetery. Never daunted by conflicts she had devoted the majority of her working life to her profession. Joan Hore remained ‘uncompromising in her views’ and in her commitment to social justice, temperance and pacifism, and her belief in the redeeming power of Christianity and the bible. 

[1] Now SCEGGS, the Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar School

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Citation details

Jude Conway, 'Hore, Joan Mary (1890–1955)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Joan Hore, at West Epping Congregational Church, 1936-1940

Joan Hore, at West Epping Congregational Church, 1936-1940

Synod Archives, Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of NSW and the ACT

Life Summary [details]


12 August, 1890
Bedford, Bedfordshire, England


20 July, 1955 (aged 64)
Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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