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Ellen Mulcahy (1859–1920)

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Mulcahy, Ellen (1859-1920) teacher, socialist, feminist, union organiser and equal pay activist 

Birth: December 1859 in Ballycaskin, Cork, Ireland, daughter of John Mulcahy (1826-1899), bootmaker, and Bridget, née O’Connell (1834-1907. Unmarried. Death. 16 September 1920 at Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria. Religion: Catholic. 

  • Arrived in Melbourne, Victoria, with parents and siblings in September 1864. Family settled at Kilmore, where John was a bootmaker.
  • With Sara Lewis and Minnie Felstead, was active in Women's Organising Committee, Victoria, Political Labor Council (PLC), seeking to organise women not covered by unions or Wages Boards and to give women greater influence in PLC and Victorian Trades Hall Council.
  • From 1910 to 1912 was instrumental in forming Women Bookbinders, the Laundry Workers and the Office Cleaners unions, becoming secretary of each. Also organised a Cigarette Workers union and several other unions, becoming an executive member. At the same time she recruited women workers to the Clothing Trades, Furniture Trades, Boot Trade and Clerk's unions. Was briefly a paid organiser for the Victorian branch of the Clothing Trades Union. Contributed to the equal pay campaign mounted by the Victorian Clerk's Union in 1912-13.
  • Also formed the Parkville branch of the PLC. Resigned from Labor Party in 1913 over the hostility shown by the Party and the Victorian Trades Hall Council leadership towards the equal pay cause. As Independent Labor candidate, unsuccessfully contested the Melbourne seat for the Federal House of Representatives in May 1913 in opposition to Dr William Maloney.
  • Subsequently established the Women's Industrial Association, a gender-based syndicalist union.
  • Member (1915) of the Catholic Women’s Club. Honorary secretary (1917-1918) of the friends of St Augustine’s Orphanage, Geelong. Honorary secretary (1916-1918) of the North and West Melbourne Patriotic League, later the North and West Melbourne Citizens’ Welcome Home to Returned Soldiers committee.
  • Lived for many years at ‘Garra-Cloyne’, Royal Parade, Royal Park, Melbourne, which had been her mother’s last residence.
  • Cause of death: myocardial degeneration and heart failure.

Labor Call
, 4 April 1912; A. Best, 1989, 95; R. Frances, 1993, 95; Labour History, no.61, 108, 112, 120; Lilith, no.5, 1988, 45-49;  Wendy Dick, “Vigorous-Minded and Independent”: Ellen Mulcahy as a Labour Leader, Labour History, 104 (May 2013), pp 31-48.

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Citation details

'Mulcahy, Ellen (1859–1920)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Ellen Mulcahy, 1913

Ellen Mulcahy, 1913

Punch (Melbourne), 22 May 1913, p 26

Life Summary [details]


December, 1859
Ballycaskin, Cork, Ireland


16 September, 1920 (aged 60)
Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.

Key Organisations
Political Activism