Cecilia Downing

Cecilia Downing (1858 – 1952) community worker, housewives’ advocate
For more than 20 years Mrs. Downing was a member of Executive Council of the Baptist Union of Victoria. She was a foundation member of the Victorian Baptist Women’s Association, of which she was secretary from 1932-41. She had a keen mind and considerable administrative ability. Recognising the need to link together Baptist women’s work throughout Australia, she took steps that led to the formation of the Women’s Board of the Baptist Union of Australia in 1935, becoming its first President. Victorians still remember her as the President of the Housewives’ Association. From 1938 this outspoken Christian lady challenged with real effect evils and abuses in the community that threatened life in the home.

Cecilia Downing (nee Hopkins) was born in London and came to Australia as a child. Trained as a teacher, she married Rev. John Downing, a Spurgeon’s graduate, then minister of the Church at Williamstown, Victoria, where she lived. When his health failed, he was compelled to leave the pastoral ministry and become a banker. On their return to Melbourne from the country, they joined the Collins Street Church of which Mrs. Downing was a loyal member for 46 years, giving leadership in the Church’s women’s activities.

For more than 20 years Mrs. Downing was a member of Executive Council of the Baptist Union of Victoria. She was a foundation member of the Victorian Baptist Women’s Association, of which she was secretary from 1932-41. She had a keen mind and considerable administrative ability. Recognising the need to link together Baptist women’s work throughout Australia, she took steps that led to the formation of the Women’s Board of the Baptist Union of Australia in 1935, becoming its first President. She was honoured with life membership of the Board in 1938. Earlier, in 1928, she had been a delegate to the Baptist World Congress at Toronto, Canada, and subsequently worked for the formation of a Women’s Committee of the Alliance.

Mrs. Downing was a woman of wide interests, keenly interested in national and international affairs. She maintained that “the wider a woman’s interests, the more good she can do in the community”. She was a strong feminist but, as the mother of seven children, insisted that a woman’s first loyalty is to her own home. During her life she championed the cause of women and children. The broad scope of her involvement is seen in some of her activities: probation officer to the Children’s Courts; member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, of which she was Victorian President in 1914-18; member of the Women’s Inter-Church Council which she helped to establish; member of the Good Neighbour Council associated with the Immigration Department; member of the Pan Pacific Women’s Standing Committee.

Victorians still remember her as the President of the Housewives’ Association. From 1938 this outspoken Christian lady challenged with real effect evils and abuses in the community that threatened life in the home. The press recognised the strength of her influence: “a powerful woman, one to be reckoned with in the maelstrom of politics”. In 1940 she became Federal President of the Association. For this and much more, she was invested with the M.B.E. in February 1952. She died later that year at the age of 94. Both Baptists of Australia and the community at large are the poorer for the passing of this great soul.

Source : http://www.bwa-baptist-heritage.org/bua-bio.htm#downing

Despite the demands of her seven children, Cecilia involved herself in church, temperance and philanthropic work. A founding member of the Kyneton branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, she became Victorian recording secretary (1909) and president (1912), and founding superintendent (1911) of the W.C.T.U.’s immigration department. She was also one of the government’s first child-probation officers (1907). Having joined the Collins Street Baptist Church in 1906, she expanded her interests to include the Women’s Guild, which she helped to establish in 1910, the Melbourne Ladies’ Benevolent Society and a ‘school for mothers’ at Richmond. She also joined the Australian Women’s National League.

Mrs Downing’s political principles reflected both the Baptist stress on individual conscience, initiative and responsibility, and Free Church suspicion of government regulation. Her fundamentalist evangelical faith channelled her intelligence into applied knowledge rather than reflective or critical thinking. The emphasis of her early career was on moral reform. While she never forsook her commitment to temperance and rescue work, her subsequent activities were grounded in equally fundamentalist free-market doctrines. To her, government interference in the relationship between producer and consumer was analogous to interference between the individual Christian and God.

Complete article : http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A140031b.htm

also

http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/AWE0586b.htm

http://trove.nla.gov.au/people/743056

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