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Frederica May Mercer (1869–1942)

by Chris Cunneen

Frederica May Mercer, née Roberts (1869-1942) social activist and charity worker

Birth: 28 June 1869 at Sydney, New South Wales, daughter of native-born parents George John Roberts (1844-1913), railway employee, and native-born Martha Hannah, née Roberts (1845-1911). Marriage: 1891 to native-born Robert Thomas Mercer (1870-1950), a labourer, later storeman. They had two sons and two daughters, one of whom died in infancy. Death: 26 October 1942 in her home at Wood Street, Manly. Religion: Anglican. 

  • Frederica, known as May, claimed to be a great-grand daughter of William Hutchinson, a founder of the Bank of New South Wales.
  • Her grandfather James Roberts “ran the first coaches from Sydney to the country districts before the days of Cobb and Co., to whom he sold out”.
  • Her father had worked for the railway from Mittagong to Junee and from Junee to Wagga. He was the first mayor of Junee, the first stationmaster at Bowen and Wagga, and the first railway superintendent at Junee. May attended Junee public school in 1878.
  • From October 1915 she was prominent in the Anti-German League and spoke at its rallies in Sydney.
  • Her son Robert Johnson Keenan (Bob) Mercer (1897-1917), an electrical engineer, and husband Robert Thomas enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 27 May 1915 and 28 February 1916 respectively. Robert junior, serving with the 19th Battalion, was killed in action on 8 October 1917 at Passchendaele, Belgium.
  • Robert senior served with the 56th Battalion, was wounded in action at Glencorse Wood, Belgium, on 23 September 1917, returned to Australia in August 1918 and was discharged medically unfit, suffering from premature disability, in Sydney on 3 September 1918. Younger son Harry George Mercer (1902-1953) enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy on 11 October 1916 and continued to serve after the war; he re-enlisted in the RAN in World War II.
  • At a public meeting she had convened on 12 July 1918 Mrs Mercer founded the Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Mothers and Wives Association of NSW (claiming later that at the time “there was a lot of disloyalty rampant in the State and she had found numbers or women ready to support her in her effort to destroy this element in the community”). She was a member of the Women’s Peace Loan Committee in July 1920.
  • Her association, whose name was soon altered to Sailors and Soldiers Mothers Wives and Widows’ Association (SSMWWA) of NSW, was a strong supporter of William M. Hughes. Branches were set up in Newcastle and other centres. Mrs Mercer, who “had no time for red-raggism in any form … and stood for loyalty to Great Britain” was honorary secretary of the SSMWWA from 1918 to 1931, and president from 1931.
  • She relished the social round in Sydney. Many were the flowers she laid at cenotaphs and the patriotic statements she issued from the end of the war until she became ill in February 1935 and retired as president.
  • She was a justice of the peace by 1924 and was appointed MBE on 3 June 1935.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Mercer, Frederica May (1869–1942)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

May Mercer, 1920

May Mercer, 1920

Sun (Sydney), 26 July 1920, p 6

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Roberts, Frederica May

28 June, 1869
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


26 October, 1942 (aged 73)
Manly, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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