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Maria Kirk

Maria Kirk was the founder of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in Australia.

Honour Roll

Maria Kirk was born on 9 December 1855 in London to a salesman's assistant and his wife. She married an ironmonger's assistant, Frank Kirk, on 14 September 1878. Maria was brought up as a Quaker and worked as a missionary in London's slums. In her late twenties, she became active in the British Women's Temperance Association. She represented it in 1886 at a meeting held in Toronto to organise the World's Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WWCTU). Later that year the Kirks migrated to Victoria and settled first at Warragul before moving to Camberwell late in 1888.

In November 1887, Maria played a large part in establishing an offshoot of the Union in Victoria. Its aim was to fight the liquor traffic and promote social and moral reforms. She became colonial (later general) secretary of the WCTU of Victoria and edited its journal, White Ribbon Signal, from its inception in 1892. In May 1891, she became secretary of the newly formed WCTU of Australasia and in 1897 represented the Victorian body at temperance conventions in Britain and the United States. As a delegate of the WCTU, she helped to establish the National Council of Women of Victoria in 1902 and served on its executive committee until 1913. Due to ill health, she resigned from her official position that year but retained her involvement.

Maria's passionate, earnest and winning manner as well as excellent organisational skills made her 'the heart of the movement'. She combined ardent Christian piety with lively feminist views and a keen interest in social reform. In 1891, Maria organised and presented to parliament the 'Great Petition' of 1891 for enfranchisement and in 1894 was a founding committee member of the Victorian Women's Franchise League. In the 1890s, she also fought to increase the age of consent for girls. She advocated the appointment of female gaol attendants and police matrons. Through the WCTU and the NCW she fought for the Children's Court Act (1906), and was a keen supporter of free kindergartens for the inner suburbs.

She died on 14 January 1928 at Malvern, Victoria. As a memorial, the kindergarten she helped found in Richmond in 1909 bears her name. Her epitaph reads: 'Her works do follow her'.